The Heart of Henry Quantum…and a Giveaway!

21

henry-quantum

Today’s book is for those who like a bit of quirk in their contemporary.  The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding is part romantic comedy, part epic Christmas quest and part relationship drama, and it was kindly provided to us by Scribe Australia for review.  Even better is the fact that now you get the chance to win a copy!  Read on for that…but in the meantime, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Henry Quantum has several thoughts going through his head at any given time, so it’s no surprise when he forgets something very important — a Christmas gift for his wife, Margaret, which he realises on the morning of December 23rd.

So Henry sets off in search of the perfect present for Margaret: a bottle of Chanel No. 5.

But much like Henry’s ever-wandering mind, his quest takes him in different and unexpected directions, including running into the former love of his life, Daisy. Meanwhile, Margaret is questioning whether she and Henry belong together after all …

‘The Heart of Henry Quantum’ is a sweet, funny, and touching debut which shows how the seemingly insignificant events of one single day can change our lives forever — perhaps, if we’re lucky, for the better.

I was super excited to read this book.  I will say that right up front.  From the blurb and the cover, I thought that this was going to be a book featuring a lovable and slightly forgetful old bloke who ends up discovering how much he loves his dear old wife after an uplifting and heartwarming encounter with an old flame from his youth.  Exactly the sort of story I love, I thought.

So I started reading and soon discovered that Henry is not an old man, but rather a middle-aged fellow with quite remarkable powers of going off at a tangent, mentally.  Also, he works in marketing.

Alright, thought I.  The main character is not who I expected, but I will still give this a go.  Despite the fact that Henry can’t keep a relevant thought in his head for more than two seconds at a time.  And is such a man-child that he can’t even plan ahead to buy his wife a present.

So I read on with an open mind until….we meet Daisy, the former love of Henry’s life.

That’s cool! I thought.  Daisy seems like a fun, interesting gal.  This could be looking up! I thought.

And then we find out that Daisy may be the love of Henry’s life, but their former relationship was carried out during Henry’s marriage to his wife.  The one he can’t remember to buy a Christmas present for.  And Daisy, in order to be with Henry, was also cheating on her husband.

If there is one thing I can’t abide, in real life or in fiction, it is infidelity.  If I had liked Henry more to begin with, I may have pushed on, but since his flights of ideas were already beginning to get on my nerves, I decided to put the book down there, at page 71.

I can see that this book will have a huge number of readers that will absolutely love the contemporary, quirky, rom-com nature of the plot.  Unfortunately though, I do not count myself among their number.

As well as being a let down because I was expecting a completely different kind of story, I am also left in the lurch on not finishing because this was going to be my entry for the letter Q in my Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge.  I had already tried (and failed!) with two previous Q titles, so I was counting on Henry to see me through.

Happily though, this means that one of you can now snag a copy of The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding and provided to us by Scribe.

The giveaway is open internationally and other Ts & Cs are in the rafflecopter form.  The giveaway will run from today until November 23rd, 2016.

To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter link below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

The Rules of Backyard Cricket: A Gentlemen’s Game, My Foot!!

3

backyard-cricket

Today’s book might be a little baffling to my North American readers, but stick with it…things might start to make sense.  We received The Rules of Backyard Cricket from Text Publishing via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It starts in a suburban backyard with Darren Keefe and his older brother, sons of a fierce and gutsy single mother. The endless glow of summer, the bottomless fury of contest. All the love and hatred in two small bodies poured into the rules of a made-up game.

Darren has two big talents: cricket and trouble. No surprise that he becomes an Australian sporting star of the bad-boy variety—one of those men who’s always got away with things and just keeps getting.

Until the day we meet him, middle aged, in the boot of a car. Gagged, cable-tied, a bullet in his knee. Everything pointing towards a shallow grave.

Not being known for having a deep and abiding love of cricket, some of you may be wondering why on Earth I would have been interested in reading a book that clearly states that cricket will be involved in the story.  Well, Judgey McJudgerson, even though I find watching professional cricket interminably boring (except for Big Bash…that’s only mildly boring), Backyard Cricket, as every Australian knows, is a far more interesting game.  And so I decided to give this one a go.

I am in two minds.

The book flips between Darren’s present predicament of being locked, against his will, in a car boot, zooming toward probable death (or at least social unpleasantness), and his entire life story before the present moment, beginning with his and his brother’s exploits as young cricketers.  As well as dastardly deeds, violence, gambling, untimely death, failed relationships, secrecy and betrayal, there is an awful lot of cricket in this book.

An awful lot of cricket.

From the backyard variety to the professional international circuit, this book is chock full of cricketing parlance.

I did not particularly enjoy the cricket bits.  Of which there were a lot.

I did, however, enjoy the suspenseful, stuck-in-the-boot-on-the-way-to-unsightly-death bits and there were enough of these to keep me reading.  The redeeming bit of the story for me was definitely the final few chapters which featured only minor cricket symbolism, but a lot of excitement and danger and a hugely satisfying, ambiguous-but-not-really ending that only a mastermind of bookish misery could concoct.

Well played, Jock Serong.

If you enjoy reading about cricket and you love suspense and backstabbing and secrecy and so on as well – my, you’ll be in for a treat with this one.

And just in time for cricket season, too.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Mondays are for Murder: Magpie Murders…

5

image

I’m bringing out the big guns for our sojourn into humanity’s dark underbelly today, with the much-anticipated new release Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. We received our copy from Hachette Australia for review, and while the blurb is intriguing enough, it’s nothing compared to the twisty-turny-ness that goes on in the pages.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the tattered manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has little idea it will change her life. She’s worked with the revered crime writer for years and his detective, Atticus Pund, is renowned for solving crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s. As Susan knows only too well, vintage crime sells handsomely. It’s just a shame that it means dealing with an author like Alan Conway…

But Conway’s latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript there lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

From Sunday Times bestseller Anthony Horowitz comes Magpie Murders, his deliciously dark take on the vintage crime novel, brought bang- up-to-date with a fiendish modern twist.

magpie-murders

Plot Summary:

It’s going to be quite difficult to tell you much about the plot without disturbing the intended reading experience, so I’ll keep this bit brief.  Susan Ryeland is an editor at a semi-successful publishing house that is kept from going under mostly due to the best-selling titles of one Alan Conway.  Conway writes the wildly popular Atticus Pund detective series, and while he is a complete pill to work with – demanding, selfish and generally unpleasant – he nevertheless delivers on providing his manuscripts bang on time.  It is after Conway has dropped off the manuscript of the ninth book in the series, Magpie Murders, to Cloverleaf books, that life begins imitating art and secrets that have the potential to shed a whole new light on the books and Conway himself are both revealed and kept back.  Even though Conway’s books are keeping her in a job, Susan wishes she had never laid eyes on Conway or Atticus Pund.

The Usual Suspects:

Okay, this section isn’t going to work particularly well for this novel because in essence you are getting two mysteries for the price of one.  You see, one section of the novel is devoted to the manuscript – yes, the entire manuscript – of the ninth Atticus Pund novel, so the reader gets to experience a vintage-style, golden age of crime, sleepy English village mystery, written by Conway, as well as a contemporary amateur sleuth mystery, narrated by Ryeland.  Incredible value for money, when you think about it!  I can tell you that the Pund manuscript features all the usual suspects you would expect from a Christie-esque mystery: the Lord and Lady of the Manor, various lackeys in the form of housekeepers, groundsmen and their families, the village doctor, the sister of the Lord of the Manor, a Johnny-come-lately store owner, a shady Reverend and his wife, a young couple trying to make a go of things…

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Once again, there are two separate, but intertwined mysteries going on here, so I will focus on the Atticus Pund manuscript.  Again, this follows exactly the formula of a vintage British crime novel.  Atticus Pund is essentially Poirot, but German (indeed, Poirot, Marple and various other crime writers are mentioned throughout the contemporary part of the novel, and the reader is supposed to get the sense that the Atticus Pund series has been deliberately written in this style).  The detective and his young assistant come into town and question the appropriate people, Pund smugly lets on that he knows the answer to the mystery, the mystery is revealed in the typical fashion.

Overall Rating:

poison clip artpoison clip artpoison clip artpoison clip art

Four poison bottles for the utter bewilderment of trying to solve two mysteries simultaneously

I’m finding it hard to really get to the nitty-gritty of this novel and express what I thought about its quirks and twists, because I don’t want to give anything away. There are two major plot points that I think would really detract from the reading experience if you were to find them out before reading the book, so if you know any reviewers who are fond of spoilers, it might be best to steer clear until you’ve read it.  Suffice to say that if you are a fan of murder mysteries of the contemporary or historical variety, you should definitely give this a go and see what you think, because the format will most likely be different to anything you’ve read before in this genre.

The story itself has layers upon layers, with puzzles and sideways references hidden throughout.  In terms of solving the mystery/s along with the characters, it is decidedly tricky to do because there are so many clues that are given piecemeal, or only make sense in the context of information that is revealed later.  Having said that, I certainly came across a few clues that had me thinking “Yes! I’ve got it!”.  I was proved wrong, of course, but not in the way I was expecting.

One of the strange things that I experienced, that most readers probably won’t have to contend with, is the fact that I was reading an uncorrected manuscript of an uncorrected manuscript, so I was trying to find clues where no clues were intended! My review copy was an ARC (or advanced readers copy, or uncorrected proof copy for the uninitiated) and therefore contained minor errors – typos mostly, and in one case, the wrong name assigned to a character – and as the Atticus Pund manuscript within the novel also contains minor errors (deliberately, I suspect, to make it look like a first draft manuscript), I was thinking that the errors in the contemporary bits might have some hidden meaning.

They didn’t.

But it certainly made reading the book a bizarre, code-cracking experience.

Horowitz has done a brilliant job of creating two complete mysteries within the one novel.  I enjoyed the Atticus Pund manuscript very much, given that it is in the vintage style that I prefer.  In fact, Horowitz has done such a good job with making Pund like Poirot that I wish he had been given charge of the new Poirot stories, rather than Sophie Hannah.  The contemporary part of the novel was a little bit slow for my liking, mostly because we have already been presented with what is essentially an entire book within the greater story, so I just wanted to hurry things along and get to the dual reveals.

Horowitz has proved once again what a fantastic mastery of writing he has with Magpie Murders.  We on the Shelf have long been fans of his work,  and although there were some parts of the book overall that don’t sit quite right with me on reflection, Magpie Murders is a wonderful, quirky and unexpected addition to the murder mystery section of the shelf that will have readers trying to puzzle out clues within clues.

Highly recommended.

Until next time,

Bruce

An MG Double-Dip: Bubbles and Boy Bands…

1

image

It’s middle grade Double-Dip time again!  I just love getting stuck into the middle grade titles – my TBR shelf comprises about 75% middle grade titles and it’s a reading age-bracket that we just can’t get enough of.  Today we have a boy in a bubble and a girl competing with a boy band.  Grab your snack and dive in!

First up we have Girl vs. Boy Band: The Right Track by Harmony Jones, the opener of a new series aimed at tween girls who aren’t quite ready for YA contemporary titles but are craving a bit of innocent romantic interaction.  We received this one from Bloomsbury for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Talented but painfully shy eighth-grader Lark secretly writes feisty, heartfelt songs about her life-about school, crushes on boys, not getting along with her mom, and missing her dad who lives in Nashville. But that secret becomes harder to keep when Lark’s mother, a music record executive at her own label, announces that British boy band Abbey Road will be coming to live with them while they make their first album!

Sharing her L.A. house with three noisy, mischievous rising stars isn’t as glamorous as expected, especially when things aren’t going smoothly with the band members. When one of them plagiarizes one of Lark’s songs and passes it off as his own, will Lark gain the courage to step into the spotlight herself?

Dip into it for…girl vs boy band

…innocent adventures with a self-effacing and  down-to-earth main character who is going through some majorly disruptive life events.  Lark is a girl with a lot of talent but not much confidence, whose recent family breakup has meant that she has had to move to a new town.  Her best friend Mimi provides the comic relief and the encouragement and the strong friendship developed throughout the book will appeal to young female readers.  As indeed will the attractive young males that suddenly appear in Lark’s house, due to her mother’s job as a musical talent agent and recording studio boss.  Generally, this is a story featuring a positive pair of female leads, pitched at a female audience on the cusp of the teenage experience.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not up for a tween-girl issues fest.  I will admit that this is not my kind of book, and while there is obviously a gap in the market that needs to be filled with age-appropriate content for young women who are venturing into the romance/contemporary genre and need something slightly less adult-themed than your typical YA title, I cannot picture the actual young person who will pick up this book and get excited about it.  Clearly, I am not the target audience for this one.

Overall Dip Factor

If you can stomach tween-angst (or you are a tween), then this is a fun, light read with some beguiling main characters on a crazy, growing-up adventure.  There’s a bit of diversity thrown in, in that Mimi, Lark’s best friend is Latina.  This is a good opening piece for what will be an ongoing series with a slight cliffhanger ending that will entice readers to seek out the second book.  Overall, I enjoyed the friendship between Mimi and Lark and the focus on Lark gaining confidence to shine her light, as it were.

Next up we have The Bubble Boy by Stewart Foster, which we received from Simon & Schuster Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

They call it a crash when the blood goes from my head to my feet, pours out into the room and drains through a hole in the middle of the floor. They call it a crash when the walls start spinning and the pictures blur. Then the ceiling turns black and the floor turns black and I don’t know which way I’m facing any more.

Eleven-year-old Joe can’t remember a life outside of his hospital room, with its beeping machines and view of London’s rooftops. His condition means he’s not allowed outside, not even for a moment, and his few visitors risk bringing life-threatening germs inside his ‘bubble’. But then someone new enters his world and changes it for ever.

THE BUBBLE BOY is the story of how Joe spends his days, copes with his loneliness and frustrations, and looks – with superhero-syle bravery, curiosity and hope – to a future without limits. Expect superheroes, super nurses and a few tears from this truly unique story.

Dip into it for…the bubble boy

…a remarkably engaging story, considering that all the action takes place entirely in the one room!  Joe is a winning narrator, and despite the fact that the majority of the other characters in the book are adults, the story never loses the feel of being a middle grade read, told by a middle grade-aged protagonist.  The inclusion of Henry, Joe’s fellow bubble boy from America, and their regular Skype chats, plus the computer forum interactions between Joe and various others provides a nice change in format from the typical text, and reflects the sense that it is mostly tiny changes in day-to-day routine that Joe looks forward to.  There are some big issues at play here, but Foster manages to keep most of them in balance with a deft hand.

Don’t dip if…

…you are looking for an action-packed adventure.  Much like a long, uneventful hospital stay, the book moves at a leisurely, predictable pace with stretches of sameness punctuated by startling interludes.

Overall Dip Factor

This is a middle grade “relationship and growth” novel that is atypical in the telling.  While there are challenges and sad events that Joe has to face, there is an undeniable sense of warmth and security running through the book that neatly compensates for the more ominous elements of Joe’s life.  On reflection, I wonder how the book might have read differently, had Joe’s parents been in the picture, but that is just idle curiosity.  Overall, The Bubble Boy is an intriguing and thought-provoking (and quite funny) foray into middle-grade sicklit (!) and a strong second offering from Foster.

I hope your appetite for middle grade reading has been sated somewhat by these two titles!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Found, Near Water: A Rather Depressing Murder Mystery for Your Friday…

4

cover81510-medium

I’m book-ending the week with another murder mystery, although this one is a contemporary and set (surprisingly!) in New Zealand.  Christchurch, to be exact.  We received a copy of Found, Near Water by Katherine Hayton from Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Rena Sutherland wakes from a coma to discover her daughter’s been missing for days. No one’s noticed, no one’s complained, no one’s searching.

The victim support officer assigned to her case, Christine Emmett puts aside her own problems as she tries to guide Rena through the maelstrom of her daughter’s disappearance.

A task made harder by an ex-husband desperate for control; a paedophile on early-release in the community; and a psychic who knows more than seems possible.

And flowing beneath everything is a crime – perpetrated across generations – pulling them into its wake.

The first thing I’ve got to tell you about this one is that in overall tone, it’s reasonably depressing.  I suspect that this has much to do with the protagonist, Christine, who is rather a depressing old stick herself – with good reason, some might argue, given that her daughter is dead and her husband is an alcoholic.  Christine works as a volunteer victim advocate/support type person at the local police station and is generally a bit acerbic to almost everybody.  While I found this tolerable, she isn’t the kind of person I was hoping to spend the book with.  It’s worth mentioning here that all of the characters in this story are flawed in some way and the atmosphere is one of lurking menace – not necessarily because there may be a child kidnapper or murderer on the loose, but just due to the unspoken assumption that life is random, brutish and most likely to dish out tragedy to the undeserving.

Having put you on your guard, let me reassure you that I did actually find the book a reasonably solid murder mystery, with an ending that was unexpected and a whole lot creepier than I had anticipated.  There are some interesting twists involving psychics that I didn’t see coming (teehee!) and enough action toward the end to make the dreariness worthwhile.

Although the book is set in Christchurch, I will admit to not picking up on any particular Kiwi leanings until the setting was explicitly mentioned.  Disappointingly, the police in this one aren’t nearly as cheery and high-spirited as those we see on the Kiwi version of Motorway Patrol, that gets shown over here on a Saturday afternoon.  Possibly, their lack of jollity is related to the fact that they are investigating child murder and not crazy driving.

Overall, if you are looking for a murder mystery set in New Zealand that heaps epic amounts of suffering on the undeserving and a few decent shovelfuls on those who are really asking for it, this is a good candidate.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Don’t Get Caught: A YA, Five Things I’ve Learned Review

3

image

You wouldn’t necessarily think that one could learn much from a book about professional-level pranking, but today’s book puts that misconception to rest.  Don’t Get Caught by Kurt Dinan is a contemporary YA that dispenses with “all the feels” (hooray!) and gets straight down to the nitty-gritty…the nitty-gritty being pulling epic pranks on friends, neighbours, colleagues and schoolmates.  We received a copy of Don’t Get Caught from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

10:00 tonight at the water tower. Tell no one. -Chaos Club

When Max receives a mysterious invite from the untraceable, epic prank-pulling Chaos Club, he has to ask: why him? After all, he’s Mr. 2.5 GPA, Mr. No Social Life. He’s Just Max. And his favorite heist movies have taught him this situation calls for Rule #4: Be suspicious. But it’s also his one shot to leave Just Max in the dust…

Yeah, not so much. Max and four fellow students-who also received invites-are standing on the newly defaced water tower when campus security “catches” them. Definitely a setup. And this time, Max has had enough. It’s time for Rule #7: Always get payback.

Let the prank war begin.

don't get caught.jpg

And here are Five Things I’ve Learned from Don’t Get Caught by Kurt Dinan:

  1. When committing a prank, always wear some kind of protective hand covering.  Not only does this ensure your fingerprints remain anonymous, but it also guards against picking up residual mess from pranksters trying to out-prank you.
  2. Always have a Plan B.  Preferably one that involves undergarments of some description.
  3. The decision to use livestock in pranking should not be undertaking lightly.  Nor should it be undertaken without recourse to the appropriate livestock-lifting safety harnesses.
  4. The leader of the pranksters is always the one you least suspect.  Or the one you most suspect.  Or someone you hadn’t suspected at all. Take your pick.
  5. Even the most public bout of humiliation can provide inspiration for new and original pranks.

Sometimes you just need a book that doesn’t take itself, or the business of being a teenager, too seriously.  Don’t Get Caught is the perfect book to fill such a need.  It’s light, it’s a lot of fun, it has a great mix of characters (albeit mildly stereotyped to begin with) and it never pretends that its dealing with anything other than a snapshot of time in the lives of a group of teens.  While the basis of the book is an in-house prank competition set up by the “Watertower Five” – the five kids invited to an ill-fated meeting with the infamous Chaos Club – the plot has a secondary focus on identity and revenge.  Without ever getting bogged down in too much seriousness, it is obvious that Max is questioning who he is and who he wants to be, and whether the end justifies the means, where revenge-based pranks are concerned.

Dinan has done a great job of dropping in some excellent adult characters, including artistic drop-out type Uncle Boyd, deputy principal and commanding officer of the fun police Mr Stranko, the long-suffering but really quite accommodating principal Mrs B, and the never-give-you-a-straight-answer philosophy teacher Mr Watson.  Even Max’s parents make a believable couple, and it’s not often you get to say that about adult characters in YA books.

The pace is generally quick throughout and although there is space given over to the more issues-based aspects of the plot – including social labeling, personal accountability for mistakes made, leaving a personal legacy – rather than slow the plot, these interludes save the whole book from spiralling down into one big crazy prank-fest.  There are a couple of fantastic twists at the end of the story – one or two I suspected might be coming and others that appeared out of the blue – and while I wouldn’t recommend reading it as an instructional guide to public mischief, overall it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read for those who enjoy a bit of subversive jollity.

Highly recommended.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A Top Book of 2016 YA Pick: You Were Here…

0

Bruce's PickI know, I know! It’s only February and already I’ve thrown out three Top Book of 2016 picks.  You should probably count yourself lucky that there is so much excellent reading material being brought to your attention by your friendly neighbourhood shelf-dwellers.

Today’s offering is a YA contemporary novel with an unusual format and some of the best, most authentic characterisation of teenagers on the brink of starting their adult lives that I have seen for a while.  We received a copy of You Were Here by Cori McCarthy from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Grief turned Jaycee into a daredevil, but can she dare to deal with her past?

On the anniversary of her daredevil brother’s death, Jaycee attempts to break into Jake’s favorite hideout—the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum. Joined by four classmates, each with their own brand of dysfunction, Jaycee discovers a map detailing her brother’s exploration and the unfinished dares he left behind.

As a tribute to Jake, Jaycee vows to complete the dares, no matter how terrifying or dangerous. What she doesn’t bargain on is her eccentric band of friends who challenge her to do the unthinkable: reveal the parts of herself that she buried with her brother.

you were here

So here are some of the features of the book that I thoroughly appreciated:

  • Abandoned sanatoriums, shopping centres, train tunnels and fun parks
  • Alternating points of view between the main five characters – Jaycee, Natalie, Zach, Mik and Bishop
  • GRAPHIC NOVEL formatting within the novel itself – woo!
  • The aforementioned excellent characterisation of young people dealing with grief, identity, growth and changing friendships
I was surprised at how engaged I became with this story to be honest with you.  I requested it for the themes of grief and identity that are touched on in the blurb, but I was heartily impressed with the way that the author deftly handles five main characters in alternating perspectives, each with different – though intersecting – flaws and secrets.  While each of the characters could be defined as typical characters one might find in a YA contemporary – the wild child, the man-child, the brooding artistic type, the overachiever and the strong, silent type – the depth with which the author explores each of their stories is beyond the ordinary for books pitched at this age group.  Similarly, while some of the themes in the book have been done to death in contemporary YA, McCarthy’s treatment of the characters’ growth seems extremely authentic, so I never had the feeling that I was reading characters that could easily be swapped into any old YA story.
I loved the inclusion of urban exploring – seeking out and visiting abandoned public buildings or spaces – and the way in which it neatly tied in with the reader’s slowly unfolding picture of who Jake might have been, as a brother and friend.  The graphic novel elements,used to tell Mik’s part of the story, were a wonderful, novel inclusion, but I really wanted to see more of them throughout.  Similarly, the single-page artworks attributed to Bishop seemed far too thin on the ground (or the wall, as the case may be), although I understand that, apart from showcasing Bishop’s state of mind at various points in the story, it would have been difficult to include more.
If you’re looking for a deeply absorbing, authentic examination of a group of friends trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be, before launching themselves into the big, wide world, then I recommend this book to you.  If you’re looking for a riveting and sometimes disturbing examination of grief and the impact of a young person’s death on a community and family, I recommend this book to you.
And if you’re just looking for a bloody good contemporary YA read with action, adventure, romance, break-ups, pain, friendship, humiliation, growth, graffiti, secrets, graphic novel interludes and a whole swathe of abandoned buildings to explore, then you should just go out and acquire You Were Here by Cori McCarthy.  Then let me know what you think.
Until next time,
Bruce

Shouty Doris Interjects during…The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend (plus Recommend Your Favourite Bookstore and Win Stuff!)

3

RBW-Blog-Tour-Graphic

Shouty Doris interjects

It’s Shouty Doris’s first outing of the  year and boy is she champing at the bit to interject on today’s book!  If you love books that feature books and/or bookstores then you’ll definitely want to prick up your ears for The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald, which we received from Sourcebooks Landmark via Netgalley.  We are part of the official blog tour, part of which is a sweepstakes asking readers to name their favourite bookstore and win prizes!  If you’d like to participate, just read on to the end of this post, where the information will be waiting for you.

Now let’s get into it. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…


Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds that Amy’s funeral has just ended. Luckily, the townspeople are happy to look after their bewildered tourist—even if they don’t understand her peculiar need for books. Marooned in a farm town that’s almost beyond repair, Sara starts a bookstore in honor of her friend’s memory. All she wants is to share the books she loves with the citizens of Broken Wheel and to convince them that reading is one of the great joys of life. But she makes some unconventional choices that could force a lot of secrets into the open and change things for everyone in town.

Reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this is a warm, witty book about friendship, stories, and love.the readers of broken wheel recommend

The first thing you need to know about this book is that it is a translation from the original Swedish.  Translations, in my experience, can be a bit iffy if not done well, but I don’t think the typical reader would even notice that English wasn’t the original language of the story if it wasn’t pointed out to them.

Shouty Doris interjects

I’m just glad the book came fully assembled and not in a flatpack.

I wouldn’t have minded, honestly.  Okay, I promise that’s the last Sweden = Ikea reference for the rest of this review.

Shouty Doris interjectsI make no such promise.

The second thing you should know about this one is that while it is definitely and unequivocally a book about books (and bookstores) it can just as unequivocally be labelled “chick-lit” with all the positive and negative associations that such a label might entail.  I was thoroughly drawn in by the concept of travelling across the world to meet up with someone who has just-this-minute kicked the bucket.  Oddly though, the loss of Amy (Sara’s penpal) was only explored obliquely, through Sara’s decision to open the bookstore using Amy’s vast personal library as a starting point.  Amy’s letters to Sara were also used throughout the book to give a bit of background information on the folk who populate Broken Wheel, which was a nifty touch.

Shouty Doris interjects

I would have preferred more Sweden and less Broken Wheel, if you want my opinion.  I’ve never come across such a depressing bunch of sadsacks as that Broken Wheel lot.  If I was in charge of the universe, I would have taken a tyre jack and replaced the whole town long before they could make it into a novel.

I’m trying not to think about the state the universe would be in if you were in charge of it, Doris, but be that as it may, you do raise a good point.  At the beginning of the tale, Broken Wheel and its inhabitants are a pretty morose lot, given that the economic future of the town doesn’t look so good.  As the story goes on, Sara’s activities in the town rally the residents to start some new projects and adopt some civic pride, but for the first third of the book, forming a bond with the Broken Wheel lot is a bit of a slog.

I loved the description of Sara setting up the bookshop, as it sounds like just the kind of place any self-respecting bookworm would love to inhabit.

Shouty Doris interjectsI’m surprised she didn’t use the Kallax square shelving system complimented with Tisdag lighting selections and the rounded, cosy couches of the Ektorp series.  It would have given the shop a chic, European feel.

Enough with the IKEA references now.

Shouty Doris interjectsSpoilsport.

Although for most of the book, I found it completely inexplicable that people – any people, anywhere – would be ambivalent, or openly hostile towards, the opening of a bookshop.  This was another reason it took me a while to warm to the inhabitants of Broken Wheel – I could honestly not fathom that a person exists in the world who would not be positively disposed to the sudden appearance of a bookshop in their midst.

Shouty Doris interjectsParticularly when their town is so depressing and lacklustre to begin with.

Yes, I think we’ve covered that.

There is a romance subplot here that fervent readers of chick-lit will just adore, between Sara and Amy’s nephew, neither of whom are willing participants to begin with.  Sara’s voice also generates a some fine moments of dry (and not so dry) observation that were quite amusing.

Shouty Doris interjectsI quite liked the bit about the gay erotica shelf.

Yes, that was a highlight for me too.

Bivald has peppered the story with references to all sorts of books, from classics to biographies to Bridget Jones, and I’m sure some readers will savour the chance of using these references to add more books to their TBR lists.

Overall, while I found the story a bit slow-going at times, I think this is going to be warmly received by those who are looking for a comfort read, or would like their faith in the power of reading to solve all of society’s ills bolstered.

Now, onto the sweepstakes!

ReadersRecommend_logo (3)

The “Readers, Recommend Your Bookstore Campaign” is inspired by the phenomenal support booksellers have given The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald, which was selected as the #1 Indie Next Great Read for January 2016

Anyone can nominate their favorite bookstore at http://books.sourcebooks.com/readers-recommend-your-bookstore-sweepstakes/. Sourcebooks will award the winning bookstore with a $3,000 prize; two additional bookstores will each receive a $637 prize (the population of Bivald’s fictional Broken Wheel, Iowa). In addition to bookstores receiving prizes, weekly giveaways for those who nominate will be held throughout the campaign. Voting began January 4, and runs until February 19, when the winning bookstores will be announced.

Until next time,

Bruce (and Doris)

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The Adult Fiction (and a bit of non-fiction) Edition…

2

imageStrap on your most grown-up looking cowboy hat and let’s ride into today’s Round-Up!  I’ve got four titles for you today suitable for the lover of fine novels and lateral thinking.  I received all of these titles from their respective publishers or authors in exchange for review.

Celluloid (Holly Curtis)

Two Sentence Synopsis:celluloid

Jimmy Clifford is thirty-something, depressed, shut-in and owner of a mildly successful video rental store.  When he finds out that The Crypt, a heritage cinema that shows classic films just a stone’s throw from his home, is due to be demolished Jimmy must fight the demons of depression, anxiety and being an impromptu events organiser to try and save his beloved theatre.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is an indie offering that is dialogue-driven and will definitely leave you with an amused little smirk.  Jimmy is a very likeable character thrown into a difficult position and is surrounded by a bunch of quirky and generally pretty funny friends, enemies and hangers-on.  There are a lot of laughs to be had here from the dialogue and as we follow Jimmy through a few short weeks we are privy to a man emerging from a deep hole of depression into the slightly-too-sunny-but-quite-optimistic-nonetheless light of day. This is a book with a simple concept, but a lot of heart.  And chuckles.

Brand it with:

Play it, Sam; Two Dollar Tuesdays; Friends without the gorgeous women

Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard (Lawrence M. Schoen)

Two Sentence Synopsis:barsk

Set in a futuristic world, on a planet where anthropomorphic, medically talented elephants known as the Fant are the dominant species and have developed medicines on which many offworlders depend, the time is coming when the Fant’s knowledge may be taken from them by force.  After developing a drug which allows some Fant to speak to the recently deceased, offworlders launch an offensive to find out the secrets of the Fant.

Muster up the motivation because:

Elephant doctors, obviously.  I was only granted access to an extract of this book, but the first few chapters really do a great job of world building.  We are immediately introduced to the death rituals of the Fant, and find out that a significant Fant’s death may also hide a significant secret.  There is also a young, misfit Fant introduced that may have a major part to play in protecting the Fant’s knowledge.  While the extract threw up many questions about the rest of the book, I am definitely interested in finding out more about this original story.

Brand it with:

Dr Pachyderm; Life after death; Watch out for the quiet ones

Dark the Night Descending: The Paderborn Chronicles #1 (Jennifer Bresnick)

Two Sentence Synopsis:dark the night descending

Arran Swinn is a ship’s captain who asks no questions about his cargo. He probably should have in this case however, as it lands him in a life or death struggle with a face-changing murderess, sees him making a bargain for his life he can’t hope to keep and being pursued by a single-minded Guild inspector who wants to see him hang.

Muster up the motivation because:

There is some really strong world building here and a rollicking adventure with a hapless but lovable anti-hero.  In this strange world are the neneckt – water-dwelling face-changers with a distrustful relationship with humans – and the Siheldi – a mysterious and deadly ghost-race that apparently come out only at night to suck the souls out of the unfortunate.  The tale is fast-paced as Arran races from one disaster to the next and enough creepiness balanced with humour to keep the reader engaged throughout.  There are some quite frightening scenes with the Siheldi and plenty of twists as Arran finds out who he can trust and who might just turn on him at the drop of a medallion. I’m not sure I’ll go the extra mile and continue with this series, but this first offering is certainly worthy of filling a fantasy/adventure-shaped gap in your TBR list.

Brand it with:

You look familiar, Did you pack this bag yourself?, High seas adventure

The Pilot Who Wore A Dress: And Other Dastardly Lateral Thinking Mysteries (Tom Cutler)

Two Sentence Synopsis:the pilot who wore a dress

A collection of lateral thinking puzzles, their solutions and instructions on how to use them to have a grand old time.  From old favourites to new tricks, this is an essential shelf filler for those who love to think outside the box and look superior to their friends.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you are a lover of lateral thinking riddles, this book will provide satisfaction, as you confidently and correctly answer the riddles you’ve heard before, and frustration, as you grapple with hitherto unseen brain-bafflers.  The book is split into categories, starting off gently before moving to more complex puzzles.  The riddles are written out as stories, which began to annoy me after a while, but as the introduction mentions, the book is really intended to be used with a group of people, hence the elaborate story set-ups.  For dipping in and out of as an individual though, this book would be a lot of fun, with the added bonus of making you a decided expert in the field of lateral thinking puzzles.

Brand it with:

Outside the box, Questionable motives, Fun for introverts

Hopefully there’s something here you feel like lassoing and dragging home to your reading nook.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Shouty Doris interjects during…Aussie debut novel The Bit in Between!

1

Shouty Doris interjects

Doris has joined me today for Aussie author Claire Varley’s debut adult contemporary novel, The Bit in Between, which features two mildly confused twentysomethings trying to nut out identity, destiny and love in the Solomon Islands. We received a copy of this book from Pan Macmillan Australia as part of the blog tour for the book’s Australian release – thanks Pan Mac Aus!

As Doris is shelfside today, you can almost be guaranteed that a spoiler of two will slip out. I try to tell her, but you know how she is. You’ve been warned. But let’s get on.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

There are seven billion people in the world. This is the story of two of them.

After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes, quite a lot of vomit, and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.

Immediately.

Inexplicably.

Irrevocably.

With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with ‘happily ever after’.

the bit in between

Now I know that I have a blanket policy of disliking romance books on sight – it comes from having a heart of stone, you see – but I do like to give an affirmative response when asked to review new release contemporary Australian books. This is mostly because I like to keep at least half an eye on what many people are picking up when they wander into a bookshop. So while I was interested in the Solomon Islands setting and the sun-dried tomatoes, particularly, I did have a certain sense of trepidation on entering this story, given that it is advertised as a love story of sorts.

I was happy to discover, however, that The Bit in Between is much more a story about relationships than romance. Phew. Oliver and Alison are an unusual pair, who sort of fall into a spontaneous relationship as much out of a shared sense of ennui as anything else. Oliver is a semi-successful published writer who hates what his publisher did to his debut novel, while Alison is adrift after an unsuccessful relationship with an attractive, narcissistic quasi-poet. I will admit that I didn’t particularly warm to Oliver at all throughout the book, but I became quite fond of Alison by the end.

Shouty Doris interjects

I didn’t like Oliver either. He needed a good kick up the backside with a pointy-toed shoe. Lazy sod. Instead of moping about and whinging about having writer’s block he should have spent his time getting a haircut and a real job. A bit of gainful employment and he wouldn’t have to worry so much about his girlfriend leaving him.

And that Alison! What a nincompoop! What on earth possessed her to take a fancy to that Ed character to begin with? And once she’d escaped from his tedious, self-absorbed clutches, why on earth would she go back?! Young people nowadays! It wouldn’t have happened in my day.

Ahem. Hold on there, Doris. I hadn’t even mentioned Ed yet.

Shouty Doris interjects

Well hurry up then. None of us is getting any younger. At my age, I’m lucky if I make it to the next commercial break.

Yes, well. Once the happy pair decamp to the Solomon Islands, the planned setting of Oliver’s anticipated tour de force, we are introduced to two characters who have the potential to be the most annoying creatures in contemporary literature. Rick is a loud-mouthed, thrill-seeking, hard-drinking American working for an NGO, who befriends Oliver and becomes an entrenched feature in the lives of the two Australians. Ed is Alison’s aforementioned ex-boyfriend who arrives in the Solomons unexpectedly and creates a fair bit of havoc (as well as some truly dreadful poetry).

Out of the two, I much preferred Rick. His interactions never failed to provide a bit of comic relief and I particularly enjoyed his plans to make his (as yet unnamed) band a sound to be reckoned with in the Pacific region and beyond. Similarly, his bout of malaria was quite amusing in both its outrageous enactment and the fact that one couldn’t help but indulge in a bit of schadenfreude. Ed, however, was just a pain in the proverbial. I have to agree with Doris, in that I didn’t find the storyline between Alison and Ed convincing at all, especially considering Alison’s personal growth throughout her time helping local women in the Solomons.

Shouty Doris interjects

A waste of space all round – both the storyline and the bloke.

The part of the book that I enjoyed the most was the inclusion of mini-narratives about minor characters – taxi drivers, passers-by, shop assistants – that gave a hint of these characters’ back stories and provided a bit of an interlude during transitions in the main story.

Shouty Doris interjects

I agree. All of the minor characters’ stories were more interesting than Oliver’s; I’ll tell you that for nothing. Even his ending was ambiguous – like the author couldn’t even be bothered to give him a definitive closing sentence. To be honest, I was hoping for the plane crash he was planning on writing.

That’s a bit harsh, Doris.

Shouty Doris interjects

I’d eject my own seat if I was stuck between him and Ed on a plane.

Well, your animosities for fictional characters aside, the ending to the story is quite ambiguous. I suspect that a particular interpretation is somewhat implied, but I was quite happy to deliberately ignore that interpretation and craft a much more satisfying (to me) ending in my mind. I think people will take what they want to out of the ending, depending on how they feel about the characters and relationships overall.

All in all, this was a strange beast of a read. It has elements of romance, social issues, personal growth, destiny versus decision-making, grief, loss, happiness, achievement and just a touch of something that could be magical realism. For all that though, the fact that I only really connected with one of the main characters made the read not all that it could have been. On the other hand, the variety of elements in the story, and the unexpectedness (unlikeliness?) of some of the events will keep readers on their toes in what will certainly be a great pick for those looking for a holiday romance novel with a bit of real life thrown in.

Shouty Doris interjects

Next time, there should be more about the women, who were the only ones doing anything meaningful, and less about silly blokes who couldn’t change a light bulb between them with an electrified light-bulb changing machine. Honestly, men just drag down a good story.

Present company excepted, of course, eh Doris?

Shouty Doris interjects

Definitely not.

Right. Fine.

Ignore the old bird, try the book.

Until next time,

Bruce