A Non-Fiction Read-it-if Review: If You Find This Letter…

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Welcome to another Read-it-if review, this time featuring a memoir of sorts, which I received from the publisher via Netgalley.  I’m also submitting this one for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader.  I can’t remember whether I mentioned that I would be doing this challenge, but I signed up at Explorer level, which is 6-10 books.  If you’d like to find out more about the challenge, you can click on the challenge image at the top of this post.

But back to business.  Today’s book grew out of a blog that the author began in an effort to reconnect with herself and find some purpose in her life.  It’s called If You Find This Letter: One Girl’s Journey to Find Purpose Through Hundreds of Letters to Strangers and it’s by Hannah Brencher.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Fresh out of college, Hannah Brencher moved to New York, expecting her life to look like a scene from Sex and the City. Instead, she found a city full of people who knew where they were going and what they were doing and didn’t have time for a girl still trying to figure it all out. Lonely and depressed, she noticed a woman who looked like she felt the same way on the subway. Hannah did something strange–she wrote the woman a letter. She folded it, scribbled If you find this letter, it’s for you on the front and left it behind.

When she realized that it made her feel better, she started writing and leaving love notes all over the city–in doctor’s offices, in coat pockets, in library books, in bathroom stalls. Feeling crushed within a culture that only felt like connecting on a screen, she poured her heart out to complete strangers. She found solace in the idea that her words might brighten someone’s day.

Hannah’s project took on a life of its own when she made an offer on her blog: She would handwrite a note and mail it to anyone who wanted one. Overnight, her inbox exploded with requests from people all over the world. Nearly 400 handwritten letters later, she started the website, The World Needs More Love Letters, which quickly grew.

There is something about receiving a handwritten note that is so powerful in today’s digital era. If You Find This Letter chronicles Hannah’s attempts to bring more love into the world,and shows how she rediscovered her faith through the movement she started.

 if you find this letterRead it if:

* you like reading memoirs by people who have just barely cracked the quarter century in years on this planet

* you like wacky blog ideas that morph into meaningful projects in the real world

* you like your memoirs to deeply explore the author’s relationships and personal reflections

* you enjoy the idea of randomly leaving stuff behind for others to find (or as I like to call it, “guerrilla kindness” or “littering mindfully”)

It was for just this last reason that I picked up this book.  Having featured books about yarn-bombing on the blog before, I am clearly one of those creatures that gets a kick out of people secretly leaving some little treasure (be it letter, crocheted door knob cosy or book) for some unsuspecting passer-by to find and enjoy.  I was really hoping that this book would be something akin to a cross between yarn-bombing in letter format and the worldwide art and connection project begun by one man, known as PostSecret.  (If you don’t know what PostSecret is, please check it out. It’s worth a look, for certain).  Unfortunately, it read more like the developmentally typical learnings of a reasonably sheltered young woman in her twenties.  Not what I was hoping for, by any means.

The actual letter project, in which Hannah puts out the invitation for anyone who wants a handwritten love letter from her to apply via her website, really takes a back seat in this memoir to a whole bunch of other happenings in Hannah’s life.  I suspect that the idea was to show that she herself was reaching out to strangers in this way because of her own sense of disconnection, but a lot of the stuff that she talks about seemed to me to be pretty typical of anyone between the ages of about 18 and 30 who is trying to carve out an adult identity and some existential equilibrium.  I really wanted to read more about the letter project, and let that speak for itself, than find out about her involvement in a volunteer service project, and a whole bunch of Faith related personal reflection.

Did you notice that Faith-with-a-capital-F?  Yes, this is another blurb which I fear has mislead me and caused me to pick up a book that I probably would have passed on otherwise.  That last line in the blurb –  “If You Find This Letter chronicles Hannah’s attempts to bring more love into the world,and shows how she rediscovered her faith through the movement she started” – is not referring to her faith in humanity.  It’s her Faith, as in her personal relationship with God.  Now, I’ve mentioned before, that the fleshlings who own my shelf have a Christian leaning – they are even Catholics (of the rare non-lapsed variety), as is Hannah herself – so we have no objection to religious content per se in a book.  What really gets on my horns though, is when blurbs don’t make this clear.  If they said this was going to be a God book I could have made an informed decision.  But they didn’t.  So I got stuck wading through a whole lot of “Hannah returning home” (in the Catholic sense, not in the literal sense – in the literal sense, we get a nice little story about one Thanksgiving where Hannah is literally not allowed to return home. Not sure why it was included really), when I was really in the mood for “interesting social connection project”.

Now, don’t let my negativity bring you down.  Others have read this book and called it “inspiring” and “captivating”.  I would suggest reading it if it sounds interesting and make up your own mind.  But I suspect that not all blog projects need to be made into a book. At least, not a book in a memoir format.  For my (non-existent) money, I would have liked to have seen a lot more focus on the project and the benefits contained therein for not just the author, but some of the recipients of letters, and a bit less on the life-reflections of someone who seems to be a reasonably typical example of this particular age group.

Until next time,

Bruce

Alice and the Fly: A YA, GSQ Review…

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imageIt’s time to unleash my psyche’s personas once again, appropriately enough to review young adult offering, Alice and the Fly by James Rice.  I received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley (drawn in, once again, by the beautiful cover and the promise of content relating to mental health – I’m becoming predictable, aren’t I?).  Unfortunately however, these intriguing lures did not result in my arrival in readers’ paradise.  But let’s press on anyway, shall we?

It’s safe to say that Greg is a bit of an outsider.  Shunned by his peers and watching life from the bus window (when he’s not getting soft drink poured over his head), Greg records his thoughts in a notebook given to him by his would-be counsellor and actual teacher, Miss Hayes. As Greg records various traumatic incidents that happened (and continue to happen) to him, the reader finds out more about this troubled young man.  But then Greg finds what could be a friend…she doesn’t really know he exists, but Greg is determined to change that.  And that’s what leads to the terrible incident.alice and the fly

 

The Goodimage

The best thing about this book is its interesting format.  As well as excerpts from Greg’s journal (which  makes up the bulk of the narrative), the reader is privy to police interviews with a variety of Greg’s relatives and peers interspersed throughout the book.  These are welcome intrusions into Greg’s monologuing and also serve the purpose of giving the reader a few glimpses of the entire puzzle before the incident described at the end of the book.

The Sad

There were a number of things that didn’t work for me in Alice and the Fly.  The first is the fact that image there is a LOT of monologuing in this book.  It’s a personal preference, but I prefer my monolouing in moderation.  There were quite a few times during reading, particularly during the middle of the novel, that I just wanted Greg to shut up and/or stick to the point.

The thing that particularly annoyed me about this book is that there were quite a few things that just didn’t ring true while reading.  Greg’s father is a surgeon.  Greg, it appears, has some unspecified mental illness (loosely labelled schizophrenia), as well as at least one crippling phobia, that require him to be on serious medication (one would presume these to be antipsychotics).  I simply could not believe that a doctor who has a child with a serious, rare (in young children – Greg was supposedly diagnosed at 6) and debilitating mental illness, coupled with obvious social and emotional problems could be so detached from his son’s care and treatment.  Particularly after a violent incident that required Greg to be separated from the family many years previously.

That just didn’t work for me.  Nor did the fact that Greg’s problems were obvious to and identified by pretty much every adult in his life, yet he received no real therapy for his issues, aside from that provided by his well-meaning teacher.  I got the sense by the end that Greg was really just being portrayed, despite efforts to provide Greg’s side of the story through his narration, as the stereotypical dangerous, violent  loony, which just left a bad taste in my mouth.

The Quirky

The quirkiest bit of this novel is the fact that it’s written by an unreliable narrator.  Greg haimages memory blocks that are slowly chipped away, drip-feeding the reader with clues to his overall situation.  Later in the book he also experiences some dissociation that muddies the waters as to what actually happens during the incident, as I shall refer to it.  The mysterious “Them” that Greg is afraid of is also a quirky drawcard, but what “They” are becomes pretty obvious early on in the story and I don’t think the author did a good enough job of describing Greg’s state of mind when in the throes of an attack of his phobia.

I had high hopes for this book, but I was disappointed.  Having a look at Goodreads, plenty of others really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it though, so if you are interested in the themes here I wouldn’t necessarily pooh-pooh this book out of hand just because it didn’t work for me.  On the other hand, if you are interested in searching out other books featuring dissociative disorders and their effects (on children and others) I would highly recommend the novel The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke (which I never reviewed on the blog but probably should have!), The Shiny Guys by Doug MacLeod, or any of the gut-wrenching and eye-opening memoirs about schizophrenia that are out there such as Flying with Paper Wings by Sandy Jeffs, Tell Me I’m Here: One Family’s Experience of Schizophrenia by Anne Deveson, or Henry’s Demons: Living With Schizophrenia, A Father and Son’s Story by Patrick and Henry Cockburn.

In completely unrelated news, the shelf is moving! Not this virtual shelf. You can still find us in cyberspace exactly where we’ve always been.  It’s the real, physical shelf that will be moving to a new home in the next week.  I mention this because that flightly mistress, WiFi, may or may not choose to make an appearance in our new home on time, and therefore we will be taking a week off from blogging from tomorrow (that’s January 17th).  I’m sure you’ll all miss us terribly, but we will be back with you as soon as we possibly can, hopefully on the 26th for 2015’s first round of Fiction in 50! Join us, won’t you?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

The Rabbit Back Literature Society: A Read-it-if Review…

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imageTime for a Read-it-if and if you are open-minded enough to dive into an adult fiction, magical realism-based, English translation from a Finnish author, then you’ve come to the right place!  I have had my beady eyeballs on The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen for quite a considerable amount of time and when it popped up on Netgalley for Australian reviewers I jumped on it quick smart.  Having read it, I’m a bit bemused at least as much by the fact that it is the first book featuring magical realism that I really got into and enjoyed, as by the perversely amusing (and disturbing) events of the narrative.  Off we go then.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society was founded by famous children’s author Laura White to identify and mentor promising young writers in the Finnish town of Rabbit Back, in the hope that they would one day become Finland’s most prominent authors.  With nine members being selected as children, it comes as a surprise to everyone when Ella Milana – a secondary school literature teacher on a temporary contract – is selected decades later as the Society’s tenth member.  But during the welcome soiree, Laura White mysteriously disappears in front of most of the folk of Rabbit Back, and Ella Milana is left in the dark about her place in the Society – except for the slightly sinister Game that all members are invited to play.  As Ella Milana engages her fellow society members in The Game, old wounds and forgotten secrets are brought to light, and the mystery of Laura White’s dramatic exit becomes the least of anyone’s worries.

rabbit back literature societyRead it if:

* you like writing. Or snacking at all hours. Or dogs. Or snacking at all hours while writing, as the neighbourhoods’ dogs mass outside your front gate.

* you enjoy Finnish humour. (Unsure if you enjoy Finnish humour? Read this book and find out)

* you like the idea of a book plague, wherein books start infecting other books with their stories and jumbling up the original narrative

* you’d love the opportunity to really ask your favourite author some tough and revealing questions and have them give a completely truthful response

I have had a reasonably poor relationship with novels dealing in magical realism, it must be said.  This one however, I truly enjoyed.  I suspect it’s because there is a very nice balance between the magical and the realism here – the magical bit permeates a lot of the story, but it does so politely, so that I didn’t feel jerked around with random weird stuff happening at random unexpected moments for no reason at all.  I also tend to have a pretty ordinary relationship with translations, but this one hit the spot in my opinion.

To be honest, I don’t think this book is going to appeal to everyone.  For a start, it felt like a hefty read to me (although as I was reading it on the Kindle I couldn’t tell how fat the actual printed book is) and one that would best be read over a period of time, rather that devoured quickly.  There’s also a fair few bits in which the reader must suspend their disbelief (there’s the magical realism bit, rearing its magically realistic head).  And ultimately, not all the loose ends are tied up by the book’s conclusion. In fact, hardly any of them are.

But for some reason, the combination of offbeat (and often dark) humour, the unfamiliar experience of reading about Finnish characters, and the multiple twists and turns in the narrative made this a pretty satisfying read for me.  The characters are simultaneously completely believable and downright unlikely and I admit to developing a soft spot for Marti Winter, the once-handsome, now obese author of note, who enjoys elaborate pastries, suffers from various social phobias and is inexplicably plagued by dogs.  I would certainly give this one a go if the blurb interests you.  There was a lot of tidbits in it that I found unaccountably funny and there were also a few bits where I was mildly disgusted but overall this book was original enough in storyline and just odd enough (without becoming too strange) in content to get my tick of approval.

The downside of enjoying this book of course is that now Goodreads seems to be recommending a whole lot of books written in Finnish.  I did mention this was a translation, right? Goodreads, please take note.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Unhappenings Review Tour…

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Welcome to my stop on the Review Tour for new release, time travel, sci-fi, adventure novel Unhappenings by Edward Aubrey.  Make yourself at home!  This tidy and complex little number is published by Curiosity Quills, from whom I received a copy of this book.

Feast your eyes on this gorgeous cover:

unhappenings coverIsn’t it beautiful? But of course, judging a book only by its cover would just be silly *cough*, so here is some further information to entice you:

When Nigel Walden is fourteen, the UNHAPPENINGS begin. His first girlfriend disappears the day after their first kiss with no indication she ever existed. This retroactive change is the first of many only he seems to notice.

Several years later, when Nigel is visited by two people from his future, he hopes they can explain why the past keeps rewriting itself around him. But the enigmatic young guide shares very little, and the haggard, incoherent, elderly version of himself is even less reliable. His search for answers takes him fifty-two years forward in time, where he finds himself stranded and alone.

And then he meets Helen.

Brilliant, hilarious and beautiful, she captivates him. But Nigel’s relationships always unhappen, and if they get close it could be fatal for her. Worse, according to the young guide, just by entering Helen’s life, Nigel has already set into motion events that will have catastrophic consequences. In his efforts to reverse this, and to find a way to remain with Helen, he discovers the disturbing truth about the unhappenings, and the role he and his future self have played all along.

Equal parts time-travel adventure and tragic love story, Unhappenings is a tale of gravely bad choices, and Nigel’s struggle not to become what he sees in the preview of his worst self.

And of course you’re now wondering what kind of finely-tuned, creative, literary mind could conjure such an audacious story, and so here is some information about Mr. Aubrey himself:

Edward Aubry is a graduate of Wesleyan University, with a degree in music composition. edward aubrey unhappenings tour Improbably, this preceded a career as a teacher of high school mathematics and creative writing.

Over the last few years, he has gradually transitioned from being a teacher who writes novels on the side to a novelist who teaches to support his family. He is also a poet, his sole published work in that form being the sixteen stanza “The History of Mathematics.”

He now lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife and three spectacular daughters, where he fills his non-teaching hours spinning tales of time-travel, wise-cracking pixies, and an assortment of other impossible things.

Find Edward Aubry Online:

Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

And ultimately, of course, you are waiting to hear what I thought of the book.  Well, wait no longer, weary traveller, for I shall now metaphorically spill the metaphorical beans on this very intriguing take on time travel and its consequences.

I haven’t read a good time-travel yarn in quite a while – I think the last one was Backward Glass and that was ages and ages ago (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on that being the last one) [*update* I just checked my records and I’ve read at least four time travel jaunts since Backward Glass…obviously they didn’t leave much of an impression...] – so I was most pleased to jump back into one of my favourite sub-genres of science fiction.

Unhappenings is a highly original take on the well-trodden time travel path, and has a much greater focus on the consequences for human relationships from meddling with time than any other story I’ve read in the genre.  The book begins with Nigel recounting his early experiences with the mysterious and confusing unhappenings that occured at random intervals throughout his teenage years.  Essentially, Nigel began to notice that time seemed to move differently for him than for most people – he’d mention conversations or experiences that none of the other people involved seemed to remember, his teachers would suddenly disappear, alter or reappear without so much as a passing comment from his classmates, and in the most severe instances, people he became close to were retroactively wiped from existence.

This was a really intriguing premise and I fell right into the story as Nigel recounts the major incidents of these early unhappenings and reflects on the patterns he felt were forming at the time.  Of course, as the story is narrated by a much older Nigel, the reader is privy to a few extra intriguing tidbits that poor old teen Nigel is not.  This added to the puzzle solving element of the story for me and of course I became enthralled in trying to figure out what was going on before it was revealed.

This, however, turned out to be nigh on impossible.

The story is set out in parts, with each part relating to a different person in Nigel’s sphere of reference.  The early part is dedicated to Nigel’s experiences with a mysterious girl who appears at certain points in Nigel’s journey and gives him little to no information about what’s going on – except the fact that she too experiences these unhappenings.

Actually, before I get sucked into explaining the different characters and so forth, I’m going to abandon the attempt because I don’t think it’s the best way to describe the experience of reading Unhappenings.

If you are a fan of sci-fi, you will probably enjoy this book.  If you are a fan of stories featuring time travel, you will probably enjoy this book.  If you enjoy a book with a strong premise that is executed with precision and skill, you will definitely enjoy this book.  This is a story with a lot going on, both action-wise and relationship-wise, and there is plenty of bang for your buck with over 100 pretty meaty chapters.

Aubrey has done a stellar job at creating an original take on time travel that is highly complex, and best of all, he doesn’t let the mechanics of it all get away from him.  There are multiple time-streams in play here and Aubrey masterfully controls each and every one, so there are no points at which I was forced to go, “HEY! That couldn’t have happened because *insert plot hole here*”.  By the end of this mind-bendingly extensive tale, I was perfectly content that I had just experienced a fresh and daring take on an old favourite theme.

Overall, I was really impressed with this offering, and I suspect that Aubrey will pop onto a whole bunch of “one to watch” lists for those who are introduced to him through Unhappenings.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

The Undertaker’s Daughter: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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Welcome to another “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review, wherein I relay to you, the eager reader of this blog, the insights gained from one of my recent reads.  Today I have the memoir of a lady who literally grew up among the dead; residing, as she did, in a funeral home.  I requested The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield partly because I was drawn in by the cover and partly because of my interest in the funerary rituals of your kind, so I was smugly grateful to receive a copy from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the skinny on the story:

As the child of an undertaker in Jubilee, Kentucky in the 1960s, life for Kate was relatively typical, provided you discounted the corpses temporarily populating the ground floor of her home. Sharing her house reasonably comfortably with Jubilee’s dead – although always avoiding the embalming room – Kate watches as her father renders vital services to the townsfolk during the aftermath of a resident’s passing.  From feuds between the two funeral homes in town to family bouts of fisticuffs over the wills of loved ones, Kate learns about the shadier sides of human nature through others’ reactions to the spectre of death in their midst.  As she grows up, her ideas about her father evolve and family secrets and struggles shed new light on the stresses of life in a small town.  As well as one girl’s personal experience of growing up around the undertaker’s trade is a reflection of the broader social climates of a small Southern town across some turbulant decades. 

undertakers daughter

So here are…

Five Things I’ve Learned From…

The Undertaker’s Daughter

1. Embalming is not a spectator sport.

2. Even funeral homes are not immune to underhanded tactics of sabotage from business rivals.

3.  In the 1960s in some small towns, the hearse also served as an ambulance.

4. Small towns in the Southern US seem to have higher proportions of colourful characters with quirky lifestyle choices than elsewhere.

5. Living in a funeral home is much like living in any other home, except for a slight awkwardness regarding filling in the “how many people are staying in your place of residence” question on census night.

This was a bit of a hot-and-cold read for me.  There were some bits during which I felt really interested and engaged, and there were some bits that I could take or leave.  On reflection, this is quite a broad memoir that not only takes in the specifics of living in a funeral home, but also encompasses the author’s learnings from watching her father’s interactions with various people in their town.  There are big chunks of the book dedicated to Kate and her father’s relationship with a reclusive, wealthy lady resident of the town and the resulting friction that occurs between her family and the townsfolk after the lady’s eventual death.  There’s quite a bit about the volatile social climate around race in the post-segregation era as told through Kate’s experiences with friendship and dating as a young teen.  There’s an awful lot about Kate’s family struggles as she learns more about her father’s less-than-stellar behaviour and deals with her elder sister’s untreated mental illness.

So if you have an interest in that time period and its impact on the relationships between different groups in a small town, there will be a lot of extra bang for your buck if you pick up this book.  For me though, while some of those bits were reasonably interesting, I really just wanted to find out more about living in a funeral home.  By the time Kate gets to be a young teen, the funeral home bit of the memoir is pretty much wrapped up and the rest of the book focuses on Kate’s emerging social awareness, before relating her family’s experiences in dealing with her father’s death.

Overall, I suspect this wasn’t really ever going to be the book for me.  It’s in no way a bad book – it’s very readable, and as I said, got plenty to draw in the person with an interest in memoirs that focus on social history – it just wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

Nevertheless, I – and now you, dear reader – will depart this reading experience with some valuable learnings, and for that also, I am smugly grateful.

Until next time,

Bruce

Starting 2015 with a Bang (and a few shrieks!): A Murder of Crows…

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Welcome to my first review of 2015! Are we all rested after that 24 hour break? I am. I always get a nice early night on December 31st, but some hooligans in the area always think it’s funny to let off fireworks at midnight. Rapscallions!

I’m a great subscriber to the old exhortation to “start out as you mean to go on”, so to start the year I bring you a highly intriguing and very well-constructed anthology of short stories with a horrorish theme.  A Murder of Crows: Seventeen Tales of Monsters and the Macabre by DeAnna Knippling is a frightfully good collection of scary stories weaved into a larger narrative framework that in itself is positively unease-laden.  Allow me to explain.

When Machado the crow and his flock save a young girl from the questionable magic-based antics of her mother, they drive out the cold by telling her stories.  Admittedly, the stories aren’t necessarily what one would consider appropriate for children, but telling stories is part of the crows’ culture and this particular child has seen many things that would not be considered age-appropriate.  When a mysterious monster known as the Crouga is released into the flock and begins to wreak murderous havoc, it signals the girl’s moment to take revenge on her mother.  But the thing that her mother has unleashed may be stronger than even the Crouga – and even if the girl survives the damage her mother has wrought, will she ever be able to heal?

Murder of crows

I have read quite a few short story anthologies and collections that are interwoven about a central narrative, but I have to say that this book is an extremely good example of the genre.  Putting aside the content for a moment, Knippling has created a tight, thoughtfully constructed collection here that subtly links each story to the greater narrative and covers a great variety of horror-themed tales.  There’s a nifty little zombie narrative, in which humans and the undead coexist in an uneasy sharing of geographical space, stories of changelings and fey interference in human affairs, tales of summoning what should not be summoned, particularly where revenge is involved and stories featuring objects imbued with a power not their own.  I was surprised and impressed by first the number of stories included here, as well as their quality – while the content of some was a little beyond my horror-tolerance, they were all remarkably well written and engaging, something that is not always the case in longer anthologies.

As the subtitle suggests, there are seventeen short stories within the greater narrative and they are all quite hefty in themselves and therefore the reader won’t be left wanting in terms of reading time.  Like I mentioned, some of the stories, especially toward the end became a bit too realistically violent for my tastes, but I suspect they will please more experienced horror-buffs than I.

I particularly enjoyed the characterisation given to the various crows, from the elders to the chicks, and the backstories that coloured both the stories the crows shared and their attitude to the unfolding monster-based crisis.  Machado particularly had a very relatable voice and I enjoyed his musings between the short stories.

This was an out-of-the-box, quality find for me and I will no doubt end up seeking out some other examples of Knippling’s work in the future.  If this tome is anything to go by, I will not be disappointed!

I received a copy of this title through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Kaboom Kid Series: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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Welcome to my brand new review feature! I have thoughtfully titled it the “Five Things I’ve Learned” review and within it I will (in rather obvious fashion) reveal five things I have discovered while reading the featured book!  It’s going to be great.

The books I have chosen are particularly topical at this moment, given that the first test against India has just started as I am writing this and the co-author of the featured books, David Warner, is currently sitting on 77 from 73 balls.  If you have absolutely no understanding of my previous sentence, then I am guessing that you know very little about the sport of cricket.  Or, perhaps, you can’t stand cricket.  Never fear intrepid readers, if you are part of the former group these tomes will introduce you to the sport, and if you are in the second group (of which I am a card carrying member) keep and open mind as you read on.

So today’s offering is the first two books in a new series for 8 – 12 year olds, The Kaboom Kid by David Warner, J.V. McGee and Jules Faber.  These are the next in a current trend for pairing a famous sports person with an author to create series of books that kids – and particularly boys – will enjoy. The AFL did it. Rugby League has just popped out a series featuring Billy Slater (QUEENSLANDER!) and now Cricket Australia are at it.  The books feature loveable larrikin Davey Warner, who loves cricket and can’t get by without his beloved bat Kaboom, his best friend Sunil, and his stinky dog Max.

Let us stride confidently onto the pitch and face the first two balls from this new sporty series, shall we? *Richie Benaud impersonations optional*:

kaboom kid 1  kaboom kid 2

The Big Switch:

Davey Warner and his grade six friends are mad for cricket and just want to play it every moment of the day.  His team has a big game coming up against arch-rivals, Shimmer Bay, so they need to get in all the practice they can.  But when the boys end up in Mr Mudge’s class for this year they know they’ll have to tread carefully – old Mudge hates cricket and won’t allow any mention of it in his classroom. After a run in with class bully Mo Clouter leaves Davey in detention, it looks like all his practice time will be taken up picking up rubbish.  But Davey’s got a brand new trick up his sleeve that he thinks might win them the big match – if only he could get time to practise!

Playing Up:

Davey doesn’t mind practising with his big brother Steve, provided Steve gives up on his constant stream of advice about how Davey can improve his technique.  But Davey will put up with it for now – the selectors for the representative side are coming to Sandhill Flats and Davey wants to make sure that he and his lucky bat Kaboom give a performance that will impress.  When Davey plays a silly stunt in the classroom and Mr Mudge confiscates Kaboom, all his hopes of impressing the selectors goes up in smoke.  Davey cheers up a bit when Steve asks him to play up in the older boys’ team, but without Kaboom, Davey will probably mess that up too.  But Davey hasn’t counted on his teammates ability to band together when the chips are down.

Ah, cricket.  The gentlemans’ game.  The game that inexplicably requires players to stand for hours in the blazing, sunburn-inducing, melanoma-causing, sweaty, sweaty heat of an Australian summer.  Really, who’s idea was the last bit? Surely we would be better off playing cricket in winter. Anyway, you may have guessed by now that I am not the greatest fan of the game of cricket as a spectator sport.  I don’t mind playing it, but watching it is akin to having one’s skin peeled off in 1cm strips by teeny tiny wallpaper scrapers.  In my opinion, anyway.

BUT!

I actually got sucked into these books!

Yes!

I willingly read the first and quite happily picked up the second to continue Davey’s adventures.  And you know what? They actually turned out to be pretty fun little holiday reads! Amazing!  So here’s…..

Five Things I’ve Learned From….

The Kaboom Kid #1 and #2

1. Cricket is far more interesting to read about than to watch

2. The Australian selectors should probably consider including dogs as specialist fielders to improve the test side’s performance

3. Playing by the rules on the cricket pitch is non-negotiable. Playing by the rules in the classroom however, is entirely optional

4. A grumpy old teacher is almost always going to have a hidden passion for some obscure sport or activity that they will then attempt to force upon their students (possibly in response to learning #2)

5. It is actually possible to love cricket so much that you want to play it all the time…although as this is a work of fiction, I’m still not entirely convinced of this

Davey reads like a modern day Ginger Meggs, and the multicultural friendships and the feeling of the cricket lovers being “misunderstood” reminded me very much of that other Australian award-winning, cricket-based children’s novel, NIPS XI by Ruth Starke.  There’s a lot in the books that kids will enjoy – the boys get up to all kinds of hijinks and Davey’s stinky dog Max provides a plenty of comic relief.  I was a bit put off (having sat on the shelf of a few teachers in my time) by the casual blackmail applied by Davey’s team mates to his teacher Mr Mudge, in order to get back a bat that had been confiscated as a punishment for Davey breaking the rules in class.  Not quite sure what Warner is suggesting here, but one would have hoped that fair play in life is just as important as fair play on the cricket pitch.  I suspect kids won’t be beating themselves up over the ethics of that one, though.

The chapters and paragraphs are short and well-spaced and there are illustrations throughout, so the books are visually quite appealing, and not too overwhelming for younger or struggling readers.  The Aussie flavour and slang of the books will resonate nicely with those looking for a read from down our way and I found that you don’t have to know too much about cricket to be able to follow the action in the games.  (*Pointed aside* In fact, the whole first book is based around a trick shot from Davey that I thought was against the rules of cricket.  I have since discussed this with others who are more knowledgeable about the sport than I, and they agreed.  But unless David Warner contributed nothing to this book but his name on the cover, one would assume that  they would have got the rules of the game right and therefore we are all wrong. Input on this would be welcome from others who’ve read the book).

If you’ve got a cricket-mad (or just generally sports-mad) young person around your dwelling who is wandering around bleating about being bored this holidays, I can heartily recommend these first two of the Kaboom Kid series.  They’re quick reads that won’t cause any headaches from requiring too much, and will return plenty of enjoyment.

And they’re completely sun-safe. (Provided you read them in the shade. Or while wearing a broad-brimmed hat).

And they’d fit nicely in a Christmas stocking.

Just sayin’

I received a copy of these books (without even having to ask! They must have assumed that with a name like Bruce it would be unAustralian for me not to enjoy cricket) from Simon and Schuster Australia in return for an honest review.

Until next time,

Bruce