The Monster on the Road is Me: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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I have PanMacmillan Australia to thank for today’s awesome read of awesomosity.  The Monster on the Road is Me by J. P. Romney is by turns a funny, strange and creepy exploration of Japanese folklore in a YA contemporary setting and we absolutely loved it from start to finish. In fact, we enjoyed it so much we have branded it a “Top Book of 2016” pick!

Bruce's Pick

But more of that in a minute.

Let’s start with the blurb from Goodreads:

 It starts with the crows. When you see them, you know he s found you.

Koda Okita is a high school student in modern-day Japan who isn’t very popular. He suffers from narcolepsy and has to wear a watermelon-sized helmet to protect his head in case he falls. But Koda couldn’t care less about his low social standing. He is content with taking long bike rides and hanging out in the convenience store parking lot with his school-dropout friend, Haru.

But when a rash of puzzling deaths sweeps his school, Koda discovers that his narcoleptic naps allow him to steal the thoughts of nearby supernatural beings. He learns that his small town is under threat from a ruthless mountain demon that is hell-bent on vengeance. With the help of a mysterious – and not to mention very cute classmate – Koda must find a way to take down this demon. But his unstable and overwhelming new abilities seem to have a mind of their own.

monster-on-the-road-is-me

And here are Five Things I’ve Learned From The Monster on the Road is Me by J. P. Romney:

1. It is highly unlikely that attacks of narcolepsy could ever be considered a superpower.  But then again…

2. When chatting with a mysterious new girl in order to size up whether she would be good girlfriend material, always be sure to check whether or not said mysterious girl is in fact human.

3.  Shiitake farming is a perfectly honorable occupation.

4. When the weight of the world gets too much, there is always cosplay.

5. If you ever lay eyes on a three-legged crow, it’s already too late.

Given that this is a Japanese story written by an American author, it would be reasonable to think that there may be some cultural aspects to the characterisation or plot that don’t quite sit right.  Happily, Romney has managed to avoid any major pitfalls of blending a Western brain with an Eastern narrative and has combined the best of both worlds.  While the story is narrated by Koda, a Japanese boy, it’s clear that Romney has slipped in some of his own curiosities about Japanese life and culture into Koda’s narration.  The brand tag line of a popular form of lolly, for example, or the events included in the school’s athletics day are two things that are highlighted as being more than a little …unexpected, perhaps…and I think this is a nod from the author to his not-Japanese readers and an affectionate tip of the hat to the idiosyncrasies of contemporary Japanese culture. I found them suitably amusing, I must say.

In fact, the humour throughout the story is one of the book’s most appealing features. Koda, as a narrator is hilariously self-deprecating and he is supported by a cast of similarly amusing, and bizarre, characters.  My two favourites of this supporting cast were Yori, the cosplaying ex-school-bus-driver-turned-accountant who fights crime by night on Youtube and Ikeda-sensei, the ex-sumo wrestling high school gym teacher with an ill-concealed dislike of high schools, gym and teaching.  I will admit to getting the giggles (yes, giggles, not guffaws, chuckles or belly laughs) during a scene in which a kappa (a Japanese river spirit) possesses some of Koda’s friends.  All in all, Romney’s style of comedy matched mine perfectly, which no doubt contributed to my enjoyment of the story.  If you aren’t a fan of dry banter mixed with ridiculous antics, you may not find it as funny, but at least now you’ve been warned.

Amidst the humour are some decidedly creepy elements.  The swarm of crows and the multiple suicides certainly bring the mood down a little and it’s obvious that there is some higher power that has set its will against the good folk of Kusaka town.  I can’t say much more here because it relates to the major mystery elements of the story, but I loved the way things moved between ordinary, teen problems and major supernatural sh*tstorm problems without missing a beat.

I’m not sure if this book is going to be part of a series or not – the ending here is a definite ending, yet there is scope, given what has been revealed about the characters, to expand on the story – but either way, I would highly recommend getting lost in the world that Romney has created here.  As some of the characters in the book can no doubt attest (Shimizu-sensei, I’m looking at you here), The Monster on the Road is Me is the very essence of escapist storytelling.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

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

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

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

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

Murder of crows

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

Bruce

Mad Martha’s Lantern Review: The Lonely Crow…

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Cheerio my dears, it’s Mad Martha with you today for a Lantern review for the littlies.  Today’s title is a new release picture book from those cheerful, hard-working, astronomical-postage-cost-ignoring munchkins at Book Guild, and it features an avian friend who, it seems like many of us today, has fallen victim to the current shortage of affordable housing.  I speak of The Lonely Crow by Paul Stillabower.

In this tome, an unnamed crow attempts to find a safe place to sleep on a chilly evening in England’s bustling capital.  He canvasses a range of options including a seemingly empty perch in Regent’s Park, and takes the ill-advised route of trying to bunk in with various creatures at the zoo, before finding the perfect nest – and a friendly companion with whom to share it.lonely crow

Home:

not just

where you sleep

but where you feel

known

While the themes presented in The Lonely Crow have undoubtedly been done before in picture books, this tome is a comfortable addition to the canon.  The tale is told in rhyme, so it is perfect for reading aloud before bed time, and the bright, cartoon illustrations should appeal to the 3 to 6 year old set.  The illustrations do reflect the atmosphere of the crow’s long search and there are a few places in which the story takes a bit of a scary turn (for little kids anyway!) as some of the inhabitants of the places crow tries to land display less than friendly behaviour, but for me this added to the story and steered it away from being a flippant sort of read-aloud.

In that vein, the publicity guide notes that the book is intended for 5-7 year olds, and I think for kids of this age this would be a great book to open a discussion about animal and bird habitats in an urban environment.  Certainly in my neck of the woods (puntastic!), there is much focus in the primary curriculum on the impact of human development on green space and the efforts being made by councils and concerned citizens to protect and increase areas in which animals and birds can safely live.  The plight of old crow in this tome is a perfect and accessible launching point for getting kids thinking about where our furry and feathery friends might be sleeping while we are tucked up safely between four walls.

While it didn’t necessarily twig while I was reading it, given that I’m not a local of this locale, mini-fleshlings who hail from London will probably get a kick out of seeing the crow tour through some familiar landmarks before finding a place of safety.  I imagine if I was Londonish mini-fleshling, I would quite enjoy looking into trees in my general vicinity to see I could spot crow and his friend in their nesty home.

The Lonely Crow was released in May and is available from Book Guild.

Ta-ra til we meet again,

Mad Martha

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