Bruce’s Shelfies: It’s a DNF-a-thon!

6

image

The “Did Not Finish”.

It’s the bane of many reviewers’ lives.  Are we obliged to finish books we receive for review?  Is it simply good etiquette to do so?  Are those who decide to cast a review book aside woefully lacking in moral fortitude?

The DNF is an issue I’ve pondered since becoming a reviewer and I have only just started to become comfortable with the idea that I don’t have to finish EVERY SINGLE BOOK that crosses my path just because I’ve received it for review.  According to my Goodreads tally, I’ve already knocked over 82 books this year so far, so leaving a few by the wayside probably isn’t that great a sin.

Then I came across this mind-blowingly sensible article from Anya (On Starships and Dragonwings), challenging us to consider making the DNF our default option for reading.  It would certainly save time.  Theoretically, it would ensure that we were only reading the books that we were really invested in.

So I got on board.  And now I have a slew of DNFed books to share with you.

*I should note that I don’t plan to make a habit of DNFing copious amounts of books.  I just seem to have hit a bit of a pile of books that were DNFable for me in the last month*

Here they are then folks: the books I have recently DNFed.  Perhaps amongst this collection you will find your bookish heart’s desire.  I truly hope so.  Click on the covers to be taken to the book’s Goodreads page.

The Genius Factor: How to Capture an Invisible Cat (Paul Tobin)

how to capture an invisible cat

Categories: Middle Grade, science, fantasy, friendship, tea, secret societies

DNF’ed at: 29%

Comments:

I was actually really enjoying this one to start with.  There is a particularly touching friendship between Delphine and Nate that develops early on.  There’s plenty of banter that I’m sure middle graders will love.  I DNFed just as the secret society bit was coming into the story, so obviously there’s some mystery and danger involved.  Essentially, as an adult reader, I just lost interest.  Definitely worth having a look if middle grade humour/fantasy is your bag though. (And tell me how it ends)


The Smell of Other People’s Houses (Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock)

the smell of other people's houses

Categories: YA, historical fiction (1970s), indigenous issues, Alaska, coming of age

DNFed at: 29%

Comments:

Overall, this felt just a bit too depressing for me.  That enticing cover drew me in and I was interested in the Alaskan setting and characters of indigenous heritage but I just wasn’t compelled to keep reading.  Unusually for me, the alternative points of view in the narrative left me finding it more difficult to keep the characters straight.  This one would appeal to those who enjoy fiction featuring recent history, with a pervading atmosphere of realism and struggle.


Riverkeep (Martin Stewart)

Categories: YA, fantasy, death and dying 9781101998298_Riverkeep_HC_CvLib.indd

DNFed at: 11%

Comments: 

It felt like I read a lot more than just 11% of this book.  That astonishingly lovely cover drew me in, along with the blurb, with promises of a boy whose job it is to drag corpses from a river, but I just couldn’t get my head around the world-building.  The main character wasn’t particularly charismatic either, and I felt like his confusion and despair became my own.  Early on I got the sense that reading this was going to be like wading through molasses, so I made the decision to put it down.  This one would probably appeal to those who like high fantasy and epic tales that require total immersion in a new world.


Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts (A. K. Benedict)

Categories: Adult fiction, mystery, paranormal, police proceduraljonathan dark

DNFed at: 19%

Comments:

I think that in another time and place I could have really enjoyed this one.  It features two intersecting storylines – one involving a police investigation of a blind woman (who is not really blind, by the way) being harassed by a stalker, and the other involving a bloke who can see ghosts.  There seemed to be a whole ghostly world going on in this second storyline which I may have become more interested in, but the police procedural part just seemed too dense and slow.  Having said that, I may pick this up again later on if I feel like a bit of a challenge.  I’d recommend this for fans of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series and those who enjoy a bit of a paranormal/murder mystery mashup.


There Will Be Stars (Bill Coffey)

Categories: Adult fiction, paranormal (?), family relationships, redemption there will be stars

DNFed at: 7%

Comments:

What a journey of confusion I set off on during the 7% I read of this book.  I honestly had no idea what was going on for most of that 7%; a feeling made considerably worse by the irritating dialect in which the dialogue was written.  By the time I decided to put this down I couldn’t bear to see another “ain’t nothin'” or “y’all” or pithy cheesy cliched saying.  The book features a sort of groundhog day reliving of a tragic event in the life of the protagonist, but I decided I didn’t even want to experience it the first time around and so placed this one to the side.  I’d say this would appeal to those who like a quirky narrative style and don’t mind working to unravel the plot threads early on.


So there you have it.  A DNF-a-thon indeed.  I do hope you have more success with these tomes than I did.  You might even persuade me to have another crack at one!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A Double-Dip Review Featuring Two Perennial Aussie Favourites!

1

image

I’m very excited about today’s double-dip review because I get to bring you two of the shelf’s favourite characters in their newest picture book outings.  Better than that even, both of today’s books are by stalwart Aussie picture book authors and illustrators.  So grab your lamingtons and meat pies and let’s get stuck into today’s double-dip!

grug bruce wombat

First up, we have (somewhat fashionably late!), Grug and His First Easter by Ted Prior, which we gratefully received from Simon & Schuster Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

One warm sunny day, at the end of summer, Grug discovers that Easter is on its way.

Then he is visited by a mysterious creature, who leaves treats of special eggs for Grug to find.

Grug and his bush friends look for the eggs, and Grug makes some art from the shiny wrapping.

But who is the mysterious creature? Will Grug ever find out?

Dip into it for… Grug and his first easter

…another short but thought-provoking adventure from everyone’s favourite mutated Burrawang tree!  I must admit that I was surprised that Grug has been strolling around the bush for 30 years and is only just now discovering Easter, but this is a great choice for a book that addresses the absolute ridiculum of trying to explain the unique mash-up of seasonal, pagan, Christian and pop-culture motifs that make up the modern celebration of Easter to children who live in a hemisphere where Easter falls in Autumn, not Spring, and in a state where rabbits are banned.   Grug, of course, takes such nebulous concepts in his stride, having a bit of a ponder in his burrow, before the Easter Bilby delivers some chocolate eggs, and Grug demonstrates the virtues of recycling the foil wrappers before life continues much as before.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re expecting a cutesy story about Grug helping the Easter Bunny to save Easter or other such rubbish.  That’s not how Grug rolls.

Overall Dip Factor

I am heartily impressed with Ted Prior’s work here – from Grug’s charming little bobble-hat, to his worried preponderance over the thought of being born again, Prior has captured both the simplicity and the competing symbolism of the season.  The only thing that would have made this stellar for me was if the Easter Bilby had been dispensed with in favour of one of our two cute (if spiky and/or poisonous) egg-laying mammals – the platypus or the echidna – just to add to the general confusion of the season.  If you aren’t from Australia, and fancy getting a taste of the unique blend of elements that go into an Aussie Eastertime, you should definitely pick up Grug and His First Easter – I guarantee it has fewer calories than chocolate.

Next up we have everyone’s favourite wombats (sorry Muddle-Headed Wombat, you have been eclipsed in popularity!) returning in the next installment of the Diary of A Wombat series, by the unbeatable team of Jackie French and Bruce Whatley: Grandma Wombat.  Just in time for Mother’s Day too.  We gratefully received a copy of Grandma Wombat from HarperCollins Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

She eats. She sleeps. She scratches.

And like all grandmas, she thinks her grandson is the best-behaved baby ever.

But this baby wombat has other ideas …

Created by author Jackie French and illustrator Bruce Whatley, this delightfully funny book celebrates the love and joy that being a grandma can bring.

grandma wombat

Dip into it for…  

…a wombat adventure featuring rude ‘roos, unexpected vehicular transportation and more than a little bias on the part of one very proud (but sleepy-eyed) grandmother.  Now it is no surprise that the shelf loves this series dearly, but we had noticed that the mini-fleshlings in the dwelling weren’t taking to some of the books in the series as well as we shelf-dwellers did.  That all changed with Grandma Wombat, with both shelf-dwellers and mini-fleshlings laughing heartily at the antics of one cheeky baby wombat.  Enormous props must be given to Bruce Whatley for the subtle yet hilarious facial expressions on everyone from the dog to the baby kangaroo to the humans in this surprising adventure.  Here’s a snippet to give you a taste of the hilarity waiting in the illustrations alone:

dogkangaroo lady

 

 

So what on earth is going on with these wombats? You’ll just have to read to find out!

Don’t dip if…

…Nope. Can’t think of a single reason not to.

Overall Dip Factor:

I love the way that the creators of this series continue to reinvent the story, with new wombats, new settings and unexpected adventures.  If you are looking for a sure-fire hit book for a gift, then this is certainly a canny option as the story is different enough from the rest in the series to inspire some good laughs, as well as being subtly subversive in terms of Grandma’s functional blindness toward her grandson in a way which parents and grandparents will recognise and appreciate.  All around, it’s another winner from the French/Whatley juggernaut!

Before we leave the wombat family, Mad Martha wishes you to know that she desperately wanted to bring you a “Yarning with Mad Martha” feature for Grandma Wombat, along with a free crochet pattern for baby wombat.  While she did manage to recreate baby wombat in yarn, the method used to recreate Bruce Whatley’s iconic wombaty shapes resulted in a lot of freeforming (ie: winging it) and so she couldn’t wrangle the pattern into a format that could be easily followed by other crafters.  Here’s the final product for your perusal, anyway:

grandma wombat staring

Until next time,

Bruce

A Nonfiction “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review: Owls…

7

image

Who doesn’t love the bug-eyed, stealthy swoop and quiet wisdom of the majestic owl? Nobody, that’s who.  Today’s book, as you may have guessed, is devoted to these mystical, mysterious, mouse-eating birds and as it is a factual tome, I am submitting it for the Nonfiction Reading Nonfiction 2015Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader.  Keen-eyed readers will know that I’ve already technically completed this challenge, but I’m going to see how many nonfiction books I can knock over in the remaining months of the year anyway.

But we were discussing owls, weren’t we?  We received the delightful little illustrated tome, Owls: Our Most Charming Bird, by Matt Sewell, from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In this beautiful follow-up to Our Garden Birds, Our Songbirds and Our Woodland Birds, street artist Matt Sewell captures the world’s most evocative bird: the owl. In his much-loved pop-art watercolours and accompanied with his whimsical descriptions, Matt Sewell expresses the individual characters of owls as never before.

From tiny Elf Owls to huge Eagle Owls, from the mysterious creatures of the night to an impossibly fluffy baby owl, they are undoubtedly one of the world’s most intriguing feathered friends. These wise, magical birds are otherworldly in their striking colours and stature, and it’s not just birdwatchers who are obsessed. With 50 hand-selected, hand-painted owls, this is a delightful gift which appeals to owl lovers, bird-watching enthusiasts, children, adults and art and design fans alike.

Owls

So here are five things I’ve learned from

Owls: Our Most Enchanting Bird

  1. Owl facial expressions can be unintentionally hilarious.
  2. “Flammulated” is an evocative and exciting word which should be used far more often.
  3. “Flammulated” means red-hued.
  4. The Flammulated Owl is reddish.
  5. Owls tend to creep people out and as a result, have become the basis of many myths and legends.

This is a fetching and enchanting little book featuring short, witty descriptions and gorgeous illustrations of some fifty types of owl.  Not being possessed of a great expanse of knowledge about owls, this was the perfect, whimsical introduction to these masters of nocturnal stealth.  The descriptions of each owl are only one to two paragraphs in length and so the book is perfect for dipping into as the fancy takes you, but is equally suited to a cover-to-cover type of attack.

My favourite, in case you hadn’t guessed, was the Flammulated Owl both for its stimulating name and its interesting reddy-brownish colouring.  The illustrations in this book are just wonderful and perfectly compliment the light-hearted tone of the text.  Apart from our flammulated friend, I was also quite taken with the Collared Scops Owl (looking set for a walk-on role as an alien in a Doctor Who episode), the Greater Sooty Owl (a mystical looking Australian owl with excellent night camouflage) and the Crested Owl (unmatched in eyebrow prowess).

The last few pages of the book are devoted to a spotter’s checklist, featuring smaller pictures of each of the owls, so that keen readers can tick off the exotic owls as they spot them.  This is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek feature I suspect, but fun for inspiring the latent bird-watcher inside the armchair enthusiast.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge: 12/16 

Until next time,

Bruce

Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: Fishbowl…

1

imageToday’s book is one that drew me with promises of weirdness and hilarity and therefore I had it pegged as a submission for the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge before I even had my grubby paws on it.

Upon finishing it, I was slightly underwhelmed with the levels of both weirdness and hilarity, but I do admit to having ever higher standards in these areas for new books. It is a result of reviewing obsessively and chewing through more than one hundred books a year; after a while you feel like you’ve seen it all and it takes something pretty special to impress.

Hmm. I’ve just re-read that introduction and it might give the impression that this book isn’t up to much. Stay with me though – it’s worth it just for the explanation of inexplicable incidents of fish falling from the sky. And the ending. What a great ending!

I received a copy of Fishbowl by Bradley Somers from the publisher via Netgalley. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A goldfish named Ian is falling from the 27th-floor balcony on which his fishbowl sits. He’s longed for adventure, so when the opportunity arises, he escapes from his bowl, clears the balcony railing and finds himself airborne. Plummeting toward the street below, Ian witnesses the lives of the Seville on Roxy residents.

There’s the handsome grad student, his girlfriend, and his mistress; the construction worker who feels trapped by a secret; the building’s super who feels invisible and alone; the pregnant woman on bed rest who craves a forbidden ice cream sandwich; the shut-in for whom dirty talk, and quiche, are a way of life; and home-schooled Herman, a boy who thinks he can travel through time.

Though they share time and space, they have something even more important in common: each faces a decision that will affect the course of their lives. Within the walls of the Seville are stories of love, new life, and death, of facing the ugly truth of who one has been and the beautiful truth of who one can become. Sometimes taking a risk is the only way to move forward with our lives. As Ian the goldfish knows, “An entire life devoted to a fishbowl will make one die an old fish with not one adventure had.”

fishbowl

So I’m submitting this one to the Odyssey in the category of “odd character” given that the main character is a flying (plummeting) goldfish. On reading the blurb on this one, I got the impression that Ian (the fish) would be the narrator and for that reason alone, I wanted to read this book. It turns out that Ian, while having significant input into the story, is not actually the narrator and the story is told from the alternating perspectives of Ian, Katie (the downtrodden girlfriend), Connor (the villainous boyfriend), Faye (the unassuming homewrecker), Petunia Delilah (the pregnant homebirther), Jiminez (the building superintendent), Garth (the labourer with a hidden hobby), Herman (a time-travelling homeschooler) and Clare (an agoraphobic sex-line telephonist). I may have missed someone there, but those are the main ones I remember.

As one might expect, at the beginning of the tale, the characters mostly know each other from brief nods in the stairwell or lift (or in some cases, not even that) and by the end of the tale, also as one might expect, their lives have intersected in unexpected ways. As is often the way in multi-perspective tales, there were some characters that interested me far more than others. I quickly grew bored with the Katie/Connor/Faye debacle, following as it did the general scorned lover storyline. I experienced a sense of satisfaction with Garth’s narrative arc and the eventual happiness that he discovers after revealing his secret. Clare provided a good laugh in places, but for me the hero of the tale was Petunia Delilah and the live-action homebirth that we are treated to toward the end of the book.

I also enjoyed Ian’s interjections and the big reveal that finally explains those strange occurrences in which fish have been reported falling from the sky.  You thought it was tornadoes lifting the fish from lakes and depositing them over land in unexpected places, didn’t you? Please.  You’ll forgive me for mentioning how naïve you must be if you believe that “scientific” explanation. I won’t shatter your simple assumptions here though.  If you truly wish to see the light, you’ll have to read the book.

Given that I didn’t absolutely love all of the characters’ tales, my interest peaked and troughed. Overall though, I think this is an appealing story with enough humour to lighten things up, enough twists to keep the reader guessing (oh, that ending!), and enough diversity in the cast of characters to produce a hero for every reader. The tone is generally light and conversational and as such, I think this would be a great pick for a holiday read.

Provided, of course, you like your holidays to include a bit of weirdness and hilarity.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 12/16

Until next time,

Bruce

 

An Oddball Double Dip: A Smallgoods Saviour and a Shambling Detectives…

7

image

Welcome, fellow oddballs, to this double-dip of silliness.  Today I have adult fiction and YA fiction for you and they are linked by their commitment to the advancement of character groups too often overlooked in literature – specifically, undead detectives and homeless delicatessen workers.  Load up your bizarre (and slightly gross) savoury snack of choice and let’s jump right in.

Slimy Underbelly by Kevin J Anderson follows zombie detective Dan Chambeaux (“Shamble” to his friends) on a few cases with a definite supernatural twist.  Dan lives in the Unnatural Quarter, home to all manner of supernatural and/or formerly living residents whose existence came to be after an accident with a Necronomicon.  Now undead, not-human and ordinary folk rub along together in this interesting part of the city.  When a worsening stench overtakes the detective’s offices and a pre-pubescent supervillain presents with a case of wrongful eviction from his underground lab, Dan is forced to descend into the sewers to get to the bottom of the problem.  There he bumps into Ah’Chulhu, a tentacular-faced real estate mogul who is playing hardball with his tenants and the whole Unnatural Quarter property market.  As the plot (and the stench) thickens, Dan discovers that he must unearth Ah’Chulhu’s real motive before the entire Unnatural Quarter sinks below the level of social acceptability.  Throw in an Ogre opera singer who has lost his voice, a gang of violent garden gnomes on a spree of armed robberies, and an election campaign that could literally cause the earth to move, and you just know that things are about to get interesting.

18184424Dip into it for…

…a fun and silly detective romp that bursts with characters who reside slightly left of centre.  This book really worked for me as light refreshment during a heavy review period and I was most appreciative of the brain-break.  The highlight of the book for me was most definitely the array of oddbod characters, from Dan himself, to the beleaguered Ogre Stentor, who spends most of the book shouting (in a stage-whisper), “Help! Someone’s stolen my voice! If found, please call the police!”, to the Aussie-accented Ah’Chulhu, who reads very like a slimy-faced Steve Irwin, to a helpful barbershop quartet of toad demons.  Really, the book has everything.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after serious noir or detective work that doesn’t involve werewolf prostitutes.  There. I said it.

Seriously though, if you aren’t up for a gobful of silliness and disbelief-suspension, you should probably be moving right along.

Overall Dip Factor

This is the perfect book for when you don’t want to have to work too hard and you’re looking for something that is original and fun and will give you a hearty chuckle or two (or more).  I did feel that the plot dragged in a few places (mostly for me it was during the sections involving the weather wizards and their constant bickering.  Although admittedly, one of the weather wizards becomes an important character later in the story and therefore redeemed this plotline a little).  Being a country-monster of Ah’Chulhu, I was slightly affronted that an Australian was cast in such an evil light, but he has his soft side as well, so I ended up forgiving Anderson for that one.  Overall though there are plenty of intertwining plotlines and original characters here to keep even the most cynical, cranky reader from getting too snarky.  Slimy Underbelly is a great pick for when you’re sunning your skin/tentacles/fur/scales/rippling bubonic flesh on a beach (or similar) and you just want to relax and escape into a world that is slightly more bizarre than your own.

**I feel I have to point out that I did pick up one little flaw in Ah’Chulhu’s authentic Australian-ness.  At one point, while dismissing the zombie detective, Ah’Chulhu uses the word G’day. Typically Australian one might think, except this term is only ever used by native speakers in greeting, never in parting.**

Now onto some oddness for the young adult market….

Welfy Q. Deederhoth: Meat Purveyor, World Saviour by Eric Laster is a humorous sci-fi romp set partly in a delicatessen and partly in an alien world in the midst of an invasion (by a second alien species).  The book opens with Welfy, hungry teenaged lad of no fixed address, attempting to find work in exchange for something to eat.  Morton, owner of Grammercy Deli, takes pity on Welfy and gives him a job, thus beginning Welfy’s exposure to the aliens among us (well, kind of).  On descending to the deli basement, Welfy is transported into an alien world, in which he is immediately mistaken for “The One (with a dirty apron)”, a prophesied hero sent to save the Brundeedles from the oppressive and violent Ceparid race.  Along with the alarming discovery that he can now pull weapons from his deli apron pocket, Welfy meets a whole host of Brundeedles, including Princess Nnnnn and her little brother Raoul, and her husband, the jealous Prince Ffff as he fights alongside them to save the Brundeedles from assured destruction.  But hang on – how is it possible for a deli basement to hide a portal into another point in space?  Welfy is going to need all the help he can get from both sides of the galactic divide  (as well as an apron pocket full of weapons-grade salami) in order to save the Brundeedles and figure out his true destiny.

welfyDip into it for…

…a wholly original take on the “undiscovered hero” plotline for the upper-middle grade, lower-YA audience.  This reminded me of nothing so much as Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smek Day, not only because of the sci-fi themes, but also because both books feature a fun balance of humour and action with a healthy side order of silliness.  Books like this work, in my opinion, because although they contain situations and/or characters that defy logic and disbelief suspension, the characters within the story take the story seriously, and because of this it’s much easier to get sucked in to the plot.

Laster has also managed to create a pretty complex protagonist in Welfy.  He’s a homeless kid with an uncertain family history and a more recent track record in foster care.  He’s also a mature and humble sort of guy, prepared to work to get ahead.  I appreciated also the poignant moments amongst the alien chaos.  The author has really done a good job here providing insight into why life on the street might be preferable for some young people than staying in the foster care system.

Don’t dip if…

…you expect your sci-fi to be heavy or serious, or you find characters with unpronounceable names irritating.  There is a fair bit of “Brundeedle language” spoken in certain sections here and I can imagine that some people might find it a bit annoying to read bits of…well, unreadable text.  You’ve been warned.

Overall Dip Factor

This is going to appeal to sci-fi fans of all ages and those who are prepared to take a chance on a story out of left field.  Vegetarians need not apply.  The cover actually gives a pretty good overall impression of the contents and atmosphere of the story, and I would love to see this story in graphic novel form in the future.

To add to the whole “this book is a bit different to your average” theme, Laster has thoughtfully provided an appendix  which outlines how to translate Brundeedle language into English.  And for those stout-hearted code-breakers among us, he’s also included a news article written in Brundeedle language in order for you to practice.  Finally, the book includes a little teaser of a story called “The Case Files of Erasmus Twiddle”, so you can’t complain that Laster hasn’t given you some bang for your buck.

Give it a go if you want to pull something different out of the hat apron.

Until next time,

Bruce

* I received both titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley*

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

//

ARC Read-it-if Review: Oblivion…

3

Morning all! Today’s offering is a new release YA contemporary that has a bit of crazy, a bit of amnesia and a bit of romance bundled into a chunky bit of story.  I speak, of course, of Oblivion by Sasha Dawn.  I received a digital copy of this title from Netgalley via the publisher in return for an honest review – thanks!

In Oblivion we meet Callie (short for Calliope), a teen girl with an odd little problem.  Callie has been diagnosed with graphomania, an involuntary compulsion to write, since she was found alone in an abandoned apartment feverishly scrawling the words “I killed him” all over the walls, the floor and herself.  Callie also has no memory of the night she was found or the time immediately before it, and this poses something of a problem for her, as well as others, because her memories of that time may just solve the mystery of the disappearance of her father and a young girl, Hannah, who have been missing since then.  With her mother in a psychiatric hospital and Callie living with a foster family, she’s having a tough time trying to fit in at her new school and keep a hold over her compulsion to write.  As the anniversary of the disappearances comes closer, Callie begins to remember more and more about the events leading up to her inital episode and all memories seem to point to some very sinister happenings.  With the support of new beau John, old beau Elijah and nearly-real sister Lindsey, Callie will have to face some very difficult times if she is to uncover the mystery of why she writes.

oblivion

Read it if:

* you like a book that has plenty of plot and a slow reveal to keep you wanting more

* you’re a fan of romance and love polygons in your YA fiction

* you can’t go past a sinister mystery involving amnesia, flashbacks and the masterful wielding of a red ball point pen

Okay, let me start with what I didn’t like about Oblivion.  Regular readers of this blog will know that I can not accurately be described as a fan of romance in YA.  This book had a lot of romance.  And insta-love.  And not so much a love triangle as a love rectangle (or square. Or possibly a rhombus).  Now, I don’t mind a bit of romance if it’s integral to the plot or it’s a bit quirky or it serves some other essential service in the story.  The romance elements in this book did none of those.  And they took up a lot of the book.  Along with the romance bits were a lot of normal-teen-problem bits with Callie’s group of friends drinking and engaging in random sexual activities.  And then there was even a bit about a big school dance.  I really couldn’t see the point of any of these bits, or the enormous amount of ink spent on them and in a book this long (and boy was it long!) dispensible plot points are just plain irritating and grounds for not finishing the book.

If I had not been in a situation in which I was largely immobile for about three hours, I probably would have abandoned the book because of the excessive length caused by random stuff that just didn’t need to be included.  As it was, I actually read this book in one sitting (which probably exacerbated the annoyances I felt about excessive length caused by random stuff that didn’t need to be included).

The other thing I really didn’t like about this book (and this might just be a personal quirk, so feel free to scoff at this criticism if you like) but the young male psychiatrist that Callie visits regarding her graphomania seems to me to sail very close to the wind of impropriety and unacknowledged counter-transference.  No actual immapropriate behaviour is mentioned, but there’s definitely something a tad unprofessional going on there.  As I said, this may be a personal quirk, but it seems that in lots of YA, psychiatrists are either portrayed as woefully ineffective and patronising, or just a little bit too interested in their patients (if you know what I mean *wink*) and this is a personal pet peeve.

Let us imagine however, that by some judicious stroke of luck, a copy of this book sans romantic bits and general teen fluff happened to land on my shelf.  If this were the case, I would give this book five stars.  If I discount the bits that I felt dragged the plot back, there’s not much to complain about with Oblivion.  In fact, it’s really rather good.  The premise is exciting and original, the mystery is complex and twisty and there’s lots of different elements – Callie’s mother, her flashbacks, where the girl Hannah fits in – that are woven together to form a very well-formed narrative.  It was interesting finding out about Callie’s graphomania and the circumstances in which it manifested.  It was fun trying to piece together Callie’s fragments of memory to try and solve the puzzle before the end of the story.  There were some really tricky red-herrings thrown in that added an extra layer to the puzzle of why Callie’s mother was locked away.

So overall, I did enjoy this book and there was plenty in it to keep me turning pages.  If, like me, you aren’t a fan of the (in my opinion) completely irrelevant romance and love polygon sections I would suggest skipping them as they come up, because it would be a shame to miss out on the intriguing mystery elements that Dawn has created here because of a bit of irritating filler material.

Oblivion is released on May 27th 2014.

Until next time,

Bruce

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

//

Funny Strange and Funny Ha-Ha: A Double YA Read-it-if Review…

7

Morning fellow book-a-sauruses! Or should that be book-a-sauri? Only if you’ve been reading too much in the dark…HaHAA, see what I did there? The funnies have already started!  Today I will be providing commentary on two YA new releases that are light, funny and the perfect thing for cheering up an otherwise frown-worthy day.  One is a cosy mystery (well, cosy enough, I suppose) and the other features a little bit of paranormal and I received both digital copies from their respective publishers via Netgalley – thanks! So set your emotionality regulators to “mildly amused” and let’s get this show on the road!

First up we have Buzz Kill by Beth Fantaskey. (Incidentally, isn’t that a great surname? I think so. Well done on that, Fantaskey family!).  Buzz Kill features high-school newspaper journalist Millie Ostermeyer as she attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding the murder of Hollerin’ Hank Killdare, her school’s almost-universally disliked football coach. Unfortunately, due to his status as one of the least popular people around the school, Millie’s list of possible suspects is quite extensive and even includes her dad, the football team’s assistant coach.  As Millie tries to solve the mystery and win a Pacemaker (high school journalism’s highest accolade), she keeps running into mysterious (and handsome) quarterback Chase Albright and perky, annoying cheerleader and editor of the school newspaper, Vivienne Fitch.  Why do these two seem to be tangled up in every aspect of the crime? If Millie can’t find a lead in this mystery soon, it may be that someone very close to her ends up taking the rap.  So with the help of Nancy Drew, a good friend and a stinky but loveable dog, Millie is going to crack this case…or possibly die trying.

buzz killRead it if:

* you despise Phys Ed class and the many and varied humiliations that accompany it

* you think that being kicked in the backside while wearing a honeybee mascot costume could feasibly be perceived as cause to commit murder

* you’ve been waiting for the teenage Miss Marple to come along, although without the knitting and felt hats (I know I have!)

As soon as I read the blurb for this one the question arose as to why there aren’t more cosy-style murder mysteries aimed at this age group.  It’s such an engaging genre and Buzz Kill is a great example of it.  There was a distinctly light tone used throughout the book and Millie, our narrator, has a dry, self-deprecating humour that really colours the telling of the story.  All the characters you would expect are there: the unpopular murder victim who had wronged plenty of people, the over-zealous-but-not-very-accurate small town police investigator, the popular kids who were humiliated by the coach, the disengaged school principal…it’s your classic whodunnit tale set in a context very familiar to young people and readers of YA.

There’s also a bit of romantic undercurrent to the story with the tall, dark, handsome and mysterious newcomer, Chase Albright being the focus of Millie’s investigative attentions.  As an adult reader and fan of traditional and cosy murder mysteries, I enjoyed the familiar unfolding of the plot and the twist at the end was well-timed and unexpected.  The reveal of the eventual murder weapon is tinged with a bit of slapstick as well and made a very satisfying finish to the book.

I did find that my attention wandered a little towards the beginning of the last third of the book, as the focus shifted more to the developing friendship between Millie and Chase.  Although the mystery surrounding Chase had been set up early in the book, the eventual reveal about his place in the grander scheme of things didn’t really surprise me and I don’t think it will surprise many readers.  This didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the story for me, but simply made that section drag a little.

I’m very happy to have read Buzz Kill and I hope Fantaskey or other YA authors (and publishers!) take a chance on more cosies like this one specifically for a YA audience.  Buzz Kill was released on May the 6th.

Now onto the “funny ha-ha”…

In Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski we are introduced to homeroom 10B, who, after receiving their flu shots at school one day, develop the ability to hear other people’s thoughts.  While for some individuals, this seems like a dream come true and the perfect opportunity to gain the upper hand in their studies or relationships, for others they would like nothing more than  a complete return to normal before they end up accidentally overhearing, for example, any more of their parents’ amorous thoughts.  As the days pass and the teens get used to being exposed to every possible overshare that one could think of (quite literally), some secrets emerge that would ordinarily have never seen the light of day and certain members of the group find themselves subjected to the ethical scrutiny of their peers.  When it becomes apparent that the authorities may be on to 10B’s special abilities, each of the “Espies” must make a choice – do they give up their telepathy for the sake of their health and sanity, or do they hold on to the quality that has turned them into (slightly) super humans?

Don't Even Think

Read it if:

* you have recently taken to wearing a stylish, thought-blocking tinfoil hat every time you leave the house because you suspect the teenagers that loiter in the stairwells of your building have telepathic abilities

* you were reluctant to share airspace with some of your grade ten classmates, let alone brain space

*you’ve ever been in a situation in which you’ve been unutterably grateful that no one could find out what you REALLY think about something

I love a book that’s an out-of-the-box surprise.  Particularly when that surprise is a pleasant one.  I thoroughly enjoyed Don’t Even Think About It.  When I initially read the blurb, I wasn’t 100% sure that this would be to my tastes but I took a chance and I’m glad to say that I was rewarded with an original and highly amusing imaginative tale that blends typical teen angst and relationship drama with ESP to create a very appetising story-smoothie indeed.

The first thing that drew me in (and threw me off a bit, admittedly) was the use of a collective voice to tell the story.  See, by the end of the tale, the teens have become so used to hearing each others’ thoughts that they have adopted a sort of hive-mind, and this is reflected in the narration.  At the beginning this was mildly confusing but within a chapter or two I had it sorted and by the end I felt that it contributed to my experience of the book as original and a stand-out from others in the paranormal/romance YA genre.  After looking at other reviewers’ thoughts, this point stood out as a negative for some, so I suspect it might be a personal preference thing.  As a fan of dialogue-driven writing (as my Fi50 entries will attest!), the multi-character approach to narration appealed greatly to me.

I did have a few troubles in the first half of the book keeping some of the female characters straight, as a couple tended to blend into each other by having similar shy aspects to their personalities.  Other characters like Mackenzie, BJ and Pi stood out as strong voices in the narrative and really drove the story forward.  One drawback of having such a large ensemble cast of characters is that not many of them get time in the limelight and therefore some characters came off as a bit two-dimensional.  Whether this was intentional, as the book is the first in a series and there will be time later to flesh them out, I’m not sure but I can see how this would annoy some readers.  It certainly didn’t bother me however – I felt that the movement between characters added to the light tone of the book and allowed the plot, and the humour, to flow more freely.

As I said, this is the first book in a planned series, but I feel it works perfectly well as a standalone.  If you enjoy your YA light, with plenty of funny dialogue and embarrassing situations, a bit of teen angst and romance, and just enough paranormal to keep things interesting, give this one a go.

Don’t Even Think About It was released on May 1st.

Until next time,

Bruce

Follow on Bloglovin

my read shelf:
Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

//