An Fi50 Reminder and TBR Friday!

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fi50

It’s that time of the month again – Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday!  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

only certainty

See you there!

TBR Friday

And now it’s time for TBR Friday!  Today’s book is The Art of Purring by David Michie; the sequel to The Dalai Lama’s Cat which I reviewed on the blog a couple of years back.  I think I borrowed the first book from the library and enjoyed it so much that I immediately purchased both it and its sequel…and then, of course, left the second book languishing on my shelf until…well, now.  Let’s kick off with the blurb from Goodreads:

What makes you purr? Of all the questions in the world, this is the most important. It is also the great leveler. Because no matter whether you are a playful kitten or a sedentary senior, a scrawny alley Tom or a sleek-coated uptown girl, whatever your circumstances, you just want to be happy. Not the kind of happy that comes and goes like a can of flaked tuna but an enduring happiness. The deep-down happiness that makes you purr from the heart.     

Before leaving for a teaching tour to America, the Dalai Lama poses a challenge to his beloved feline, HHC (His Holiness’s Cat): to discover the true cause of happiness. Little does she know what adventures this task will bring!     A hair-raising chase through the streets of McLeod Ganj leads to an unexpected revelation about the perils of self-obsession. An encounter with the mystical Yogi Tarchen inspires a breakthrough discovery about her past—one with dramatic implications for us all. And overheard conversations between ivy-league psychologists, high-ranking lamas, and famous writers who congregate at the Himalaya Book Café help her explore the convergence between science and Buddhism on the vital subject of happiness.     Sparkling with wisdom, warmth, and a touch of mischief, The Dalai Lama’s Cat and the Art of Purringis a charming reminder of why HHC is becoming one of the most-loved cats around the world.So what is the true cause of purring? The Dalai Lama whispers this secret on his return—only for the ears of HHC and those with whom she has a karmic connection . . . that, dear reader, means you!

the art of purring

Ten Second Synopsis:

The Dalai Lama is leaving on a world tour and Rinpoche is left to her own devices.  While gadding about with locals, she discovers nuggets of wisdom to pass on to the reader.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Since November 4, 2013 – so nearly three years!

Acquired:

Purchased from the Book Depository

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

I knew it would be a gentle sort of a read and more of the same as appeared in the first book so just kept overlooking it in favour of more exciting fare.

Best Bits:

  • The writing is unhurried and episodic, which means it is absolutely perfect for when you want a book that you can dip into before bed, a chapter at a time.
  • Nothing really bad happens, so it isn’t going to give you indigestion or have you up all night worrying about it
  • It is a gentle sort of a book with no preachiness or guilt-inducing exhortations to make your life better.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • I wouldn’t recommend reading it if you haven’t first read The Dalai Lama’s Cat.  You could probably enjoy it without having first read the previous book, but the first book really does have a lot more charm and character than this one.  I feel like this one reads a bit like a refresher course in being the Dalai Lama’s cat.
  • The human characters in this one aren’t as characterful as in the first book – the individual learning curves not as steep and the outcomes not as drastically happiness-inducing

On reflection, was this worth buying?

To be honest I could probably have just borrowed this one from the library.  Annoyingly, in a state of ridiculous generosity, I gave away my copy of The Dalai Lama’s Cat, and now that I have the lesser of the two books with me I wish I hadn’t.  Ah, impermanence!

Where to now for this tome?

I will probably pass it on to someone who will enjoy it.

This is another chink off the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block.

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

The Merit Birds: A YA “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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image

Hold onto your hats, folks, it’s time for another “Five Things I’ve Learned” review.  Today I have a YA novel featuring a Canadian in Laos – The Merit Birds by Kelley Powell.  I received a digital copy from the publisher in exchange for review.  I should probably warn the faint of heart that this review WILL contain mild spoilers.  You have been warned.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Eighteen-year-old Cam Scott is angry. He’s angry about his absent dad, he’s angry about being angry, and he’s angry that he has had to give up his Ottawa basketball team to follow his mom to her new job in Vientiane, Laos. However, Cam’s anger begins to melt under the Southeast Asian sun as he finds friendship with his neighbour, Somchai, and gradually falls in love with Nok, who teaches him about building merit, or karma, by doing good deeds, such as purchasing caged “merit birds.” Tragedy strikes and Cam finds himself falsely accused of a crime. His freedom depends on a person he’s never met. A person who knows that the only way to restore his merit is to confess. “The Merit Birds” blends action and suspense and humour in a far-off land where things seem so different, yet deep down are so much the same.

the merit birds

So here are Five Things I’ve Learned from

The Merit Birds

1.  Travelling white folk have an almost uncanny ability to be intrusive, entitled and generally insensitive in cultures not their own.

2. Lao people are partial to the phrase boh penh nyang  – no worries.

3. Drinking and driving will get you into trouble.

4. In the worst of situations, sometimes all you can do is breathe.

5. Life is hard, but it’s harder when you don’t admit to your mistakes.

Right. I have mixed feelings about this book.  The Merit Birds is told through three perspectives, those of Cam, 18-year-old, whinging, pity-party-throwing, Canadian basketballer; Nok, youngest of three siblings, who could have gone to university but instead must work to support her family in the local massage parlour; and Seng, Nok’s older brother, who tries to be useful and has a burning desire to go to America.  The perspectives alternate as Nok and Cam form a tentative friendship and Seng tries to contact his older sister Vong in order to get to America and a better life.

The story begins slowly as the reader is introduced to Cam’s backstory and treated to his shock and dismay at having to live in a place such as Lao.  We meet the all-round good bloke and Cam’s next-door neighbour, Somchai, and find out more about Nok and Seng’s parents and why the siblings have been left on their own.  When Cam and Nok’s friendship develops into a romance, the plot begins to move more quickly and soon enough the story has more twists than a kinked-up garden hose.

I had a couple of problems with this book.  While I enjoyed the book overall, I felt Cam’s storyline was just a waste of space.  I know that must sound strange, given that Cam is the main character and the focus of the story, but I was far more interested in the Lao characters and would have quite happily read a book (with a few plot tweaks, obviously) based just around them.  Cam as a character didn’t really work for me because I couldn’t see how he had grown over the course of the book and he generally just brought the whole thing down for me because…

**Here’s some spoilers! Look away if you don’t want to know!**

…in the beginning Cam spends his time whining and moaning because he is living in Laos, but we are told that he actually had the option to remain in Canada but didn’t take it.  He’s rude, dismissive and generally a right little snot to his mother (for reasons that are clearly explained) but this didn’t endear me to him in any way.  He’s 18. An adult. This kid needs to grow up!  Then he physically assaults an opposing basketball team player to the point that he is in a serious condition.  When this comes back to haunt him later on in the book, it’s overshadowed by the false allegation and at no point does Cam ever take responsibility for cracking another person’s vertebrae.  Nor does his mother in fact.  Both just seemed shocked that anyone would be wanting to press charges over such grievous bodily harm.  And when, at the end of the book, Cam exits the prison into his mother’s waiting arms, I cannot help but feel that he will go trapping off back to Canada, complaining about how badly he was treated, never giving thought to the myriad of ways in which he contributed to his own sh*tty situation.

***Spoilers over!***

Overall, I found this to be an original and engaging story, with the Lao characters, their culture and history the main points of interest to me.  I admit that I’m not really sure what message to take from the book (because I’m sure there’s some wisdom hiding in the pages, if I could only puzzle it out) but if you are looking for a YA novel that is different from your average contemporary romance, that features fleshed out characters and an alternative perspective then this may just be what you’re looking for.

Until next time,

Bruce

Utopi-rama!: Introducing a New Feature and a New Reviewer…

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Good morning all! Today I am excited to introduce a brand new feature for the blog and a brand new reviewer, who has been shuffling about the shelf for a good long while now, but has finally made the leap into sourcing books for our glorious work.

First, the feature.  It may come as a surprising, perhaps even shocking revelation, but I can finally admit that I am getting a bit over dystopian novels.

There. I said it.

Gasp in horror if you must, but I have reached the point where if I have to read one more blurb (attached to a YA novel or otherwise) indicating mass death and destruction by zombification/totalitarian state/natural disaster/human-made disaster/mutated virus or otherwise, then I may have to jab myself in the eyeball with a toothpick.

I have reached my dystopian limit.

Instead of bemoaning the fact (more than I already have), I have decided to implement a new feature, titled:

utopirama button

This will be a semi-regular feature to celebrate all things utopian in the literary world.  For want of a better term, this feature will be promoting comfort reads – the kind of books with no nasty surprises, that you can confidently pick up when you’re feeling a bit dissatisfied with the state of the world, or have had your fill of zombification/totalitarianism/natural disaster etc etc…

And who better to select the books for this feature than our good friend and shelf-dweller, the Marquis de Chuckleworthy!  Although as his proper name is a bit of a mouthful, we on the shelf tend to just call him Larry.  As in “Happy As…”

You can probably guess why from his picture.

MdeC 2

Larry will be sourcing the books for this segment, and I will be presenting them to you, for your viewing and reading pleasure, with pleasure being the operative word.

Without further ado, here is Larry’s first offering, The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie!

dalai lamas cat

Quick Overview:

A cat born in the slums of India serendipitously finds itself saved from death and whisked away to share the dwelling of the Dalai Lama.  His Holiness’s Cat (aka Rinpoche, aka Mousie-Tung, aka The Most Beautiful Creature Ever Seen) reflects on this good fortune and shares her insights about the way to enlightenment in the way that only an exalted feline can.

Utopian themes:

Reclining cats

Crisp mountain air

Cheerful Lamas

Bookshops at the end of the world

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

protective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubble

4 out of 5 bubbles for encouraging the gentle stretching of one’s comfort zone

So there you have it.  Thank you for joining us for the first ever Utopi-rama.  We would love to hear what titles you consider to be the perfect comfort read in times of inner or outer turmoil!

Until next time,

Bruce (and Laughin’ Larry)

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Bruce’s Lucky Dip: Paper Dolls You Never Played With as a Kid…

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It’s lucky dip time again, and have I got some ripping (pun intended) offerings for you today! For those who don’t know, my lucky dip feature involves typing a carefully selected term into the Book Depository’s search box and presenting you with the delightfully weird results.

So, paper dolls. Those favoured playthings of fleshlings fond of fun in two-dimensions. Who would’ve thought that scratching the surface of such an innocuous activity would  uncover a veritable treasure chest of oddity? Well, after the utter strangeness encompassed by the range of colouring books on offer, one probably shouldn’t really be surprised.  But one will be.

For your perusing pleasure, I present to you some of the real gems of paper-related play – click on the covers if your appetite for origami-esque shenanigans is whetted!

For the Buddhist who wants to add “right-dressing” to their list of rules for living:

dalai lama paper dolls

 

In a similarly religious vein, for the paper-doll enthusiast with a penchant for swift, undetectable revenge:

voodoo paper dolls

For the book enthusiast who really wants to get inside their favourite author’s head…and wardrobe:

literary greats paper dollsI’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I’m only certain of Shakespeare out of that lot…can anyone enlighten me as to who the rest are? Is that Sylvia Plath in the straight jacket? Virginia Woolf? And the bloke on the right looks like a close relation of Colonel Sanders the KFC man, but I’m guessing is somebody more literary minded….

For the pet-lover whose real-life animal friend is averse to wearing cute little outfits:

lucky cats paper dollsFor the man in your life who always liked to play with his sister’s dolls as a little boy:

naughty girls paper dolls

And my personal favourite….***DRUM ROLL PLEASE****…..

For the political enthusiast who wants to recreate famous scandals in their own home:

richard nixon paper dolls

Now before you start scratching your head at the utter surreal-ness of the book immediately above, the BD has a whole range of paper doll books featuring American presidents and their families.  So whatever your political persuasion, there is a paper doll out there for you, voter!

If paper dolls are not your thing, I have also recently discovered two more fantastically different colouring books that I just had to share with you:

For the littlest scholar of feminist philosophy:

girls are not chicks colouring

And for the colouring enthusiast who can’t resist using one of those fancy rainbow pencils:

sometimes the spoon colouring book

 

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and flex your creative muscle! And be sure to chime in with any other exciting paper-doll or colouring related titles that we need to know about.

Until next time,

Bruce