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

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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!

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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…

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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!

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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

Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: Fishbowl…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fishbowl

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

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

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

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

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

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 12/16

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A bit of Friday Horror: Bottled Abyss (Read-it-if…)

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image

Welcome to another Read-it-if review, this time with a little horror on the side. I received today’s novel for grown-ups through the LibraryThing member giveaways and although it’s taken me a little time to get to it, it was worth the wait. Bottled Abyss by Benjamin Kane Etheridge is an atmospheric and twisted tale featuring some Greek mythology, common-or-garden grief and loss and a spattering smattering of violent retribution.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Herman and Janet Erikson are going through a crisis of grief and suffering after losing their daughter in a hit and run. They’ve given up on each other, they’ve given up on themselves. When their dog goes missing, Herman resolves to find the animal, unaware he’s hiking to the border between the Living World and the Dead. Long ago the gods died and the River Styxx dried up, but a bottle containing its waters still remains in the badlands. What Herman discovers about the dark power contained in those waters will change his life forever.

bottled abyss

Read it if:

*you enjoy boating or have ever harboured a desire to be a Venetian gondolier

*you would happily add any strange looking, rare coin to your extensive collection, citing the fact that you obtained it through less-than-honourable means as a value-adding feature

*you can quite easily think of a handful of people you would tag without a second thought to suffer an unexpected and spectacular punishment

*you can’t help but indulge in a little schadenfreude now and then, particularly when it pertains to someone for whom a comeuppance has been wanting

If you’re a fan of Greek mythology, particularly stories featuring Charon and the Furies, then this book will seriously float your boat. Sorry, had to get that pun in. Bottled Abyss is a contemporary urban fantasy/horror tale that features elements of these myths in an original and genuinely creepy way. The opening scene, in which Herman bumps into an evasive (yet supremely helpful) Charon, drew me straight in and I found Etheridge’s writing style to be pretty engaging throughout, despite the fact that towards the middle there is a good deal more violence and unsavoury goings-on than I’m used to in my reading.

The blend of reality, myth and fantasy will certainly appeal to a lot of readers who enjoy the feel of urban fantasy with an edge. I quite enjoyed the character development of a number of the main players – particularly Janet, who certainly makes a change from the grief-stricken drunkard that she appears to be at the beginning of the book – as events become stranger and the worlds of the living and the dead start to blend together. There are a number of characters that readers will no doubt love to hate also – my unfavourite being the odious childcare teacher who isn’t what she appears, closely followed by the thuggish and brutal Vincent. I found it satisfying that many of the characters are linked in ways that aren’t immediately apparent, even to the characters themselves. I felt this was the mark of some clever narrative planning and added to the reading experience overall.

While tending toward more violence and visceral suffering than I generally like to see in books, Bottled Abyss certainly delivers on both the fantasy and horror elements of the tale. I found myself still thinking about the story a few days after finishing, so obviously this is more than just a blood-splatting, clichéd yarn, so if you are stout of heart (and stomach) and enjoy a bit of mythology and horror in a contemporary setting, I’d definitely suggest trying this one out.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

Adult Fiction Haiku Review: Elizabeth is Missing…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today to share a haiku review for a book that we have read recently and very much enjoyed.  Dealing, as it does, with senior citizens, we were already predisposed to feel affection towards it, but the writing and the plot have cemented this book as one which will remain with us for a long time (ironically, given the afflictions of the main character). I speak, of course, of Elizabeth is Missing, a contemporary literary fiction novel by Emma Healey.

The book follows the slow decline of Maud, an elderly lady who experiences a constant feeling of distress at the fact that her friend Elizabeth has gone missing, and this distress is exacerbated by the fact that no one seems to believe her.  Maud, it must be said, is also suffering from what can only be described as dementia, but despite forgetting to turn the cooker off, the names of her carers, and various other important facts of her day-to-day existence, the pressing need to find out where Elizabeth has got to consumes her waking mind.  As Maud’s condition deteriorates, she is drawn ever deeper into memories of her past, in which her older sister, Sukey, also mysteriously disappeared without trace shortly after the War.  While Maud’s daughter Helen does all she can to distract and reassure her ailing mother about the current mystery of Elizabeth’s whereabouts, nothing will stand in the way of the indomitable Maud as her disintegrating mind works to uncover the secrets that are being hidden from her.  With single-minded purpose, Maud continues on her quest to find Elizabeth, and in the process inadvertantly digs up some clues that may also help solve a family mystery that has persisted for rather longer.

elizabeth is missing

What was it again?

My friend, yes! She’s missing! Who?

Elizabeth? No…

Healey has done a fantastic job here of capturing the frustration, confusion and general sense of loss that accompany the decline of a once-agile mind without sinking any of her characters into a mire of depression.  From her own recollections of girlhood, we can tell that Maud has always had a curious and fairly tenacious personality and this is reflected in the character’s ever more drastic attempts to make people aware that Elizabeth is missing and that something must be done about it.  Helen, Maud’s daughter and carer, is realistically portrayed as a frustrated woman of middle-age trying to manage both teenage daughter and elderley mother simultaneously.  While I was reading I had the strongest feelings of resonance between the events and emotions portrayed in this fictional work with the events and emotions portrayed in the real-life memoir of Andrea Gillies, Keeper: One House, Three Generations and A Journey into Alzheimer’s,  in which Gillies describes being a full-time carer for her mother-in-law.  Despite Maud’s hot-and-cold relationship with Helen as her disease progresses, Healey never demonises Helen but, I think, strikes a nice balance between the frustration of the declining and the frustration of the carer.

My favourite relationship here is that between Maud and her grand-daughter Katy – throughout the book Maud has a hit-and-miss record of remembering who Katy is, but it is obvious that Katy, slightly rebellious teenager that she is, is the only one prepared to meet Maud where she’s at.  The two have some brilliant conversations in which the patronising tone of other adults in the book towards Maud is completely absent and it’s delightful to see how this simple dynamic changes Maud’s outlook and reminds her that she is still a functioning individual on many levels.

Apart from the fantastic characterisation in the book, the mystery of Elizabeth has a nice arc of suspense to it.  Although as the story moves on, the reader can make some educated guesses about Elizabeth’s whereabouts, the final reveal is compounded by this new (old) mystery of the disappearence of Maud’s older sister.  There’s a good sense of balance played out between the two mysteries – as one begins to wind down in the mind of the reader, the other is picked up, creating a continuous sense of puzzlement that is reflected in both Maud’s actions and the actions of those around her.

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read with a clever twist on your standard cosy-type mystery.  Although there is a bit of humour peppered throughout the book, it felt to me to be quite a dense read, so I would suggest picking it up when you have plenty of time to unravel the threads of memory along with Maud.

Until we meet again, may your ration books be plump and juicy and your marrows be ever filled with stamps…or something like that, anyway.

Mad Martha

* I received a digital copy of Elizabeth is Missing from the publisher via Netgalley *

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ARC Read-it-if Review: Oblivion…

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

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

oblivion

Read it if:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oblivion is released on May 27th 2014.

Until next time,

Bruce

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