A Life in Death: Timely, Absorbing and Not for the Faint of Heart (or Stomach)…

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a life in death

Call me a ghoul if you like (a gar-ghoul?) but I have come, late in life, to a deep and abiding interest in the work of those who are employed in the field of death management. I just made that term up, but you get the idea.  Funerary workers, forensic pathologists, police – it doesn’t matter who, particularly, but I find the work they do fascinating and I find it helps a bit with acknowledging my own – and everyone else’s – mortality. A Life in Death by Richard Venables, which we received from the publisher via Netgalley for review, deals with a specific subset of post-death work; Disaster Victim Identification, or the recovery and reunification of a deceased victim of a natural or human-caused disaster with the victim’s next of kin.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Detective Inspector Richard Venables (QPM, rtd.) has helped identify thousands of bodies all over the world, piecing together fragments from tsunamis, transport and other disasters to return the victims to their loved ones.

A world-renowned expert in Disaster Victim Identification who was a member of the UK Police’s Major Disaster Advisory Team, Richard’s destiny was shaped in part by his presence as a uniformed sergeant at the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster.

In A Life in Death, Richard tells his extraordinary story, of how death came to be a key feature of his personal as well as professional life, as well as how he coped with the biggest challenge of his life: the 2004 Asian Tsunami, the deadliest event of its kind ever experienced by human civilization, claiming 230,000 lives.

Upon his retirement from the Police in 2006, Richard was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in recognition of his distinguished service. In A Life in Death, Richard takes us behind the scenes of extraordinary events, explaining with compassion and searing honesty the absolute necessity of his work, his life’s passion.

As well as being an accessible and fascinating read, A Life in Death is, sadly, a particularly timely piece of work.  Reading this, as I did, just a day after the terribly tragic Grenfell Tower fire in London and a mere few weeks after terrorist incidents in Manchester and London, really brought home the importance of the work that Venables and his ilk complete, off-putting though it may be to think about.  In this tome, retired DI Richard Venables recounts his work in the police force in Disaster Victim Identification, from its early days in the 1980s, when those tasked with the recovery and identification of victims were often required to fly by the seat of their pants, so to speak, to the very recent past, by which time procedures had been created to ensure dignity for victims and their loved ones and the minimisation of mistaken identifications and psychological harm.

In case you should blithely stroll into this reading experience somehow unaware of what might lay within, this book graphically discusses corpses.  And not just corpses – putrefecation, body parts separated from their owners, untimely and violent death, mass casualty events of the recent past, the raw grief of victims’ families and the psychological scars that can come from working with death for a prolonged period.  So there you are.  You’ve been warned.

Having said that, it also deals with these topics in a respectful, non-gratuitous and dignified fashion.  I appreciated the tone of the work, and much like Judy Melinek’s excellent Working Stiff,  being the memoir of a forensic pathologist up to and including the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, the honest approach of the book allows the reader to absorb the technical information, feel moved by the human aspect of the work, yet never feel overwhelmed by the tragic nature of the cases being discussed.  Venables frequently notes the difficulties that people who work with death can experience psychologically and champions the importance of workplaces providing support and appropriate assistance.  Throughout the book it is also interesting to note ways in which this need for support has been written in to professional procedure, to ensure that workers receive that which they need.

Some of the unique problems discussed throughout the book include the difficulties with securing a scene or scenes immediately after a mass casualty event and the specific problems faced by those – be they emergency service workers or innocent bystanders – who arrive on the scene first.  You will be stunned, I’m sure, as I was, by the completely preventable causes of some of the incidents and the unimaginable horror that one person’s error or negligence can create. Similarly, the book touches on the thoroughness of the victim identification process and why this can cause upset for families of victims, due to delays that prevent families from having the death of their loved one confirmed.

Venables does a magnificent job of hitting the appropriate tone with a difficult and somewhat unpalatable topic.  While never resorting to outright humour or jollity, he nevertheless acknowledges the odd juxtapositions that occur within his line of work.  That while he loves his work and wants desperately to learn, practice his skills and improve the practice of disaster victim identification generally, to accomplish this requires mutliple people to die in unexpected and violent fashion with some regularity, for instance.  Similarly, he recounts a situation in which he believed that he was about to die a remarkably ironic death in a plane crash, thereby becoming one of the victims requiring recovery and identification that he had always worked with.

I was so absorbed by this book and found it such an easy read that I knocked it over in two days.  Since I was reading it amid reports of the Grenfell Tower fire, it was a bit of a surreal experience, but by the end I took some comfort in the fact that at the very least, the families and friends of those people who lost their lives in what will no doubt turn out to be an easily preventable tragedy, can be assured that the identification of the victims will be carried out with professionalism, in a way that respects the dignity of each individual, in spite of the shocking manner of their deaths.

Clearly, this book won’t be for everyone but if you have an interest in emergency response and the workings of the post-life industry in its various roles, you might consider giving this a go.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

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Death Tourism, Mountain Climbing and the Third Man: The White Road…

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the white road

If you are the sort of person who enjoys caving, climbing and generally squeezing yourself into dangerous and risky spaces, I should probably let you know that you and I may well have personalities that are polar opposites.  Not being a fan of tight spaces like caves (gargoyle generally showing more preference for wide open spaces) and not seeing the point of pointlessly risking one’s life to climb Everest, it was with slight misgivings that I delved into The White Road by Sarah Lotz, which we received from Hachette Australia for review.  Brace yourselves my friends, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Adrenaline junkie Simon Newman sneaks onto private land to explore a dangerous cave in Wales with a strange man he’s met online. But Simon gets more than he bargained for when the expedition goes horribly wrong. Simon emerges, the only survivor, after a rainstorm trap the two in the cave. Simon thinks he’s had a lucky escape.

But his video of his near-death experience has just gone viral.

Suddenly Simon finds himself more famous than he could ever have imagined. Now he’s faced with an impossible task: he’s got to defy death once again, and film the entire thing. The whole world will be watching. There’s only on place on earth for him to pit himself against the elements: Mt Everest, the tallest mountain in the world.

But Everest is also one of the deadliest spots on the planet. Two hundred and eighty people have died trying to reach its peak.

And Simon’s luck is about to run out.

Despite my pathological fear of getting stuck in a tight space, the first chapter of this book – which deals with protagonist Simon’s ill-advised venture into a disused cave system with a complete nutter of a guide, to photograph the corpses of some lads who had previously undertaken the same ill-advised caving venture – had me hooked throughout.  The author manages to blend mental banter with a fear of the dark and the off-putting instability of Simon’s guide Ed to create a thoroughly absorbing situation.  It is in this first experience that the ills that plague Simon for the rest of the book are set up and it is certainly masterfully done.

There are a few convenient plot twists immediately after this.  Simon’s blog partner and cold-hearted prick of a room-mate Thierry decides that after the “success” of Simon’s caving mission – in website traffic, if nothing else – Simon should pop off to Everest to film some corpsicles.  The money is duly raised and after mild protests from Simon due to his fragile mental state, the plan is enacted.  These little niggles with Thierry’s actions were forgivable I found, because this is really a book about Simon and his demons; an introspective thriller, if you will, based on why things happen rather than how they happen.

The book is split into a number of parts.  The first deals with Simon’s caving experience.  The second part introduces Juliet by means of her diary.  Juliet is a female mountain climber of some repute (both good and bad) whose goal is to summit Everest without oxygen aids.  Her diary reveals her interesting mental state at the time and her story becomes intertwined with Simon’s bid to scale Everest and take photos of frosty corpses, both as its happening and once it’s finished.  The next part deals with Simon’s ascent of Everest and the complex interpersonal relationships between the climbers and the secrets they seem to be hiding.  Finally, the denouement observes Simon’s descent into unreality as he grapples with the need to bring closure to his experiences.

I became gripped by Simon’s struggles the further into the book I read.  The thriller part of the story was being enacted totally within Simon himself but was beautifully balanced with the physical action of the caving and mountain climbing sections.  The dark, frosty atmosphere of the settings made this a perfect winter read – if you can call Brisbane’s mild drops in temperature “winter” – and I quite happily rugged up under the covers to escape into Simon’s deteriorating sense of self.  (Schadenfreude for the win!)

Overall I was impressed with the way that the author managed the multiple threads of each character’s story to create a complex mix of psychological thriller and action.  The ending was satisfyingly ambiguous and deliciously creepy, which was a nice payoff for having slogged up Everest and through a horrid cave system with Simon while plagued by the thought of a malevolent watcher – twice each.  If you are looking for a book that will truly provide an escape from the mundane, I can heartily recommend The White Road.

Until next time,

Bruce

Meandering through Middle Grade: A Different Dog…

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I’m back with another Paul Jennings new release today, courtesy of Allen & Unwin.  A Different Dog felt like a big departure from Jennings’ typical work, despite the fact that the twist in the tale is still present.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The gripping and surprising story of a boy, a dog and a daring rescue from the bestselling, much-loved author of the Don’t Look Now series and The Unforgettable What’s His Name.

The forest is dense and dark. And the trail full of unexpected perils. The dog can’t move. The boy can’t talk. And you won’t know why. Or where you are going. You will put this story down not wanting the journey to end.

But it’s from Paul Jennings so watch out for the ambush.

One of the best. From one of the best.

a different dog

A Different Dog by Paul Jennings.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th April 2017.  RRP: $14.99

When you’ve read almost everything a particular author has written over many years and suddenly they do something with a story you don’t expect, it can be hard to measure it against your previous experiences of their work.  So it was for me with this story.  A Different Dog has a much more subdued and sombre tone that much of Jennings’ previous work and the magical realism that often colours his stories and provides the impetus for his famous twists in the tail of the tale is absent here.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – just different from what I would have expected.

The story revolves around a boy who has been a selective mute (or possibly an anxiety-induced mute) since a traumatic incident involving a beloved pet.  He lives with his mother in livable poverty and is disconnected from peers due to his lack of speech.  While on a mission to win a cash prize in a community fun run, the boy witnesses a vehicle accident and attempts to help – but instead ends up trying to find his way out of the hillside terrain accompanied by a highly unusual dog, who was a passenger in the crashed vehicle.  Along the way home, the boy makes a number of life-changing discoveries…but his greatest challenge comes later when his friendship with the dog is tested by fate.

I quite enjoyed the subtleties of this story as a change from the wackier antics that embody Jennings’ usual fare.  Even though it is a reasonably short read, this felt more like a story for older readers who could appreciate the themes of grief, guilt and shame that ring-fence the boy’s image of himself.  There is a pointedness in the story relating to the cruelty of others, whether between humans or from humans directed at animals, and this left me with a bit of a sense of the sinister when I think back to the story.

On the whole, I think I prefer Jennings’ lighter works but A Different Dog is a thought-provoking read that uses a remarkably small word count to effectively raise questions about ethics, choices and making recompense for past mistakes.  This would be a great choice for reluctant young adult readers or those who require high-interest, low reading level tales for struggling older readers.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Return to Augie Hobble: Theme Parks, Creative Arts and Life in a Wolf Suit…

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If you are tired of the typical tropes, lackadaisical layouts and predictable plotting of standard middle grade reads, Return to Augie Hobble by Lane Smith will be a breath of fresh air.  We received a copy from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Augie Hobble lives in a fairy tale—or at least Fairy Tale Place, the down-on-its-luck amusement park managed by his father. Yet his life is turning into a nightmare: he’s failed creative arts and has to take summer school, the girl he has a crush on won’t acknowledge him, and Hogg Wills and the school bullies won’t leave him alone. Worse, a succession of mysterious, possibly paranormal, events have him convinced that he’s turning into a werewolf. At least Augie has his notebook and his best friend Britt to confide in—until the unthinkable happens and Augie’s life is turned upside down, and those mysterious, possibly paranormal, events take on a different meaning.

Return to Augie Hobble was a package of unpredictability from start to finish.  Augie lives in a reasonably crappy amusement park based on a fairy tale theme and spends his summer sweeping up after guests and being picked on by bored teenage pranksters.  In his downtime, he and his best friend Britt escape to their fort in the woods and attempt to create a Creative Arts project that will get Augie a passing grade.  When Britt leaves on holiday and Augie has a strange encounter with someone in a wolf suit (or is it?), Augie’s life takes a turn for the weird…er.

This book is a bit of a cross between a graphic novel and an ordinary novel, as it is heavily illustrated throughout.  Along with the actual story the reader is privy to Augie’s multiple attempts to create a passable project for his summer school Creative Arts class and these range from cartoons to illustrated stories to photographs.  We also get to see some particularly …. unexpected …scribblings that appear in the notebook.  I use the word “appear” because Augie can’t explain how they got there…although he has a rather shrewd idea.

I won’t try to describe the plot of this story to you because it is twistier than a spring caught in an automated twisting machine – just when you think you can guess where the story’s going – phwip! – something completely unexpected pops up to change things around.  By the end of the book you’ll have vicariously experienced lycanthropism, theft, ghost activity, a genuine cowboy horse chase, gypsy prophesying, time-lapse photography, poltergeisting for the win, agents working on a government conspiracy and festive decorating.  By about two thirds of the way through the book I did feel that I had lost the thread a little because the plot was changing so quickly, but the writing is full of humour (some of it quite dark) and Augie is so relatable that I was willing to forgive a bit of disjointedness in the plot itself.

Presentation wise, this book will definitely appeal to young readers.  The cover design is engaging and the sheer volume of illustrations throughout break up the text beautifully, giving readers of all abilities a chance to evade the monotony of black-on-white text.  I’m not sure that the story will appeal to everyone – it has a unique mix of silliness and seriousness that I don’t think I’ve come across before – but if you are a fan of quirky humour and unbelievable situations then you will definitely appreciate Smith’s style.

Until next time,

Bruce

Remembering the Great East Japan Tsunami and Earthquake of 2011: Hotaka (Through My Eyes)

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hotaka

Hotaka: Through My Eyes Natural Disaster Zones by John Heffernan and Lyn White.  Published by Allen & Unwin, March 2017.  RRP: $16.99

It would be remiss of me not to review this particular book on this particular date: At 2.46pm on March 11th, 2011 a massive earthquake triggered a deadly tsunami that inundated 560 square kilometres of Japan’s eastern coastline.  The wave also caused major damage at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.  By the time the final effects of the multiple disasters were tallied, more than 24 000 people are confirmed dead or missing and six years on, hundreds of thousands are still displaced.

The Through My Eyes young adult novel series began with the stories of fictional children living in conflict zones throughout the world and has moved on to include the stories of fictional children affected by natural disasters. We received a copy of Hotaka by John Heffernan from Allen & Unwin for review and here is the blurb from Goodreads:

A powerful and moving story about one boy caught up in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

When the tsunami strikes the Japanese seaside town of Omori-wan, the effects are utterly devastating. Three years later, much of what happened on that day is still a mystery. As Hotaka sets about convincing local performers to appear at the town’s upcoming Memorial Concert, he finds himself increasingly haunted by memories of best friend, Takeshi, who perished without trace in the tsunami. Then his friend Sakura becomes involved in an anti-seawall movement, and all too quickly the protest gets serious. As the town and its people struggle to rebuild their lives, can Hotaka piece together what happened that day – and let go of the past?

The book begins the morning of March 11th, 2011 with Hotaka and his friend Takeshi on a school trip to the local puppet show.  As the day unfolds and the earthquake hits, the reader is given an idea of how it might have felt to have experienced first the shock of the extraordinarily strong earthquake, the scramble to higher ground and then the chaos and confusion following in the wake of the giant wave.  Rather than dwell on the actual disaster itself, the story soon moves on to three years later, as the residents of Omori-wan try to continue with their lives despite a lack of housing, the mental affects of trauma and an underlying sense of resentment from those who lost much toward those who lost little.

Hotaka and his friends Osamu and Sakura are charged with preparing a memorial concert for the fifth anniversary of the wave that will involve aspects of local culture, with the aim of helping the residents of Omori-wan to let go and move on.  Hotaka discovers that he, of all people, has something that he must let go of if he is to move forward in life, while Sakura – who generally keeps her cards (and her past) close to her chest – is infuriated by government plans to build an enormous sea wall around the town to protect it from future tsunamis.

Events come to a head when Sakura takes matters into her own hands and begins a protest that snowballs to national attention.  As threats from developers and local government start to hit close to home for the three friends, they must decide whether it is worth continuing to speak out for the sake of their town, or instead fall in line with the wishes of the government, as is the usual course of action.

Heffernan has done a good job here of highlighting the difficulties of the townspeople whose lives were irrevocably altered after the wave.  The stress of inadequate temporary housing, the trauma of lost loved ones and the feeling of abandonment are made obvious through Hotaka’s interactions with some of his less fortunate classmates.  The story never veers from the perspective of a young person however, and the kernel of hope that Hotaka and others continue to show lifts the book from becoming depressing at any stage.  The three young protagonists have diverse personalities and characteristics and while their differences do lead to conflict at times, the strength of their friendship pulls them through.

The book includes a timeline of the actual disaster at the end, as well as a glossary of Japanese terms, and overall I think this book would be a great starting point for any young person wanting to read more about this particular disaster in a fictional format.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Picture Books for the Open Minded…

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Saddle up my friends, because I have four picture books for you today that will open your mind, test your heart and generally stretch your imagination!  Let’s ride on in!

A Perfect Day (Lane Smith)

*We received a copy of A Perfect Day from PanMacmillan Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  a perfect day.jpg

As a collection of animals and one young boy go about an ordinary day, they all seem to find the one thing that makes them most happy.  Until, that is, a big hairy bear comes along to spoil the perfection.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is one picture book that proves that perfection depends entirely on perspective.  The beautiful pastel palette of the illustrations reinforces the gentle unfolding of an ordinary day, made special by the simple things.  Of course, in the second half of the book, things become a lot less perfect – unless you’re a big burly bear looking for somewhere to snack, play and nap of course – and there’s a certain delight in seeing the bear making dirt angels in the flowerbed, splashing in the wading pool, flashing a corn-cob smile and generally enjoying himself in a bearish fashion.  The emphasis provided by the font as bear spends his leisure time inadvertently ruining everyone else’s also contributes to the humour and would be perfect for teaching younger independent readers how to take cues from the text when reading aloud.  The final illustration depicting the animals and little boy inside the house looking out, accompanied by the text, “It was a perfect day for bear,” opens up the text for conversation with little ones about how the other characters might feel.  The edition I have received shows a similar image to that of the last page as its cover and I think this image gives a better sense of the book’s content than the one above.  All up, this is a delightful reading experience that is visually appealing and the perfect choice for sharing a gentle giggle before bed.

Brand it with:

Bears in them there hills; Bear necessities; simple pleasures

Old Pig (Margaret Wild & Ron Brooks)

*We received a copy of Old Pig from Allen & Unwin Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

A grandmother and granddaughter pig share their days and nights in a comforting rhythm of chores, food and relaxation.  When grandmother pig begins slowing down, the two confront together the spectre of a final goodbye.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this 20th anniversary edition classic children’s tale is almost achingly poignant in places and deftly broaches that hardest of topics, the death of a loved one.  As it becomes apparent that Grandmother Pig is facing her final days, the two pigs take solace in spending time together and appreciating the small, simple things in life and the rhythms of each day.  While death isn’t explicitly mentioned, it is obvious that the book is about leaving and leaving behind.  The final illustration, featuring granddaughter pig on her own is awash with hope, and allows the reader to leave the story on an uplifting note.  As much as this story would be a useful tool in gently opening up discussions with young readers about reality of death, it is also a celebration of a life well lived and the connections that we make with those dear to us.  If this book doesn’t tug at your heartstrings and make you appreciate the small moments of joy in the mundane, then you must have a colder, stonier heart than even I do.

Brand it with:

Grief, sensitively handled; quality of life; inter-generational connections

There’s a Tiger in the Garden (Lizzy Stewart)

*We received a copy of There’s a Tiger in the Garden from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  theres-a-tiger-in-the-garden

In an attempt to cure her granddaughter’s boredom, a grandmother casually mentions that there is a tiger in her garden.  The resulting, fruitful search is enough to dent the certainty of even the most sceptical of child explorers!

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is the kind of book that will have you doing exercises to expand your imagination.  While the concept of children “discovering” untapped worlds in the garden isn’t new to picture books, the ambiguous ending of this story provides a fun twist.  As Nora and Jeff (her toy giraffe) take a turn about the garden, the illustrations become more and more detailed and jungle-like, blending a sense of magical realism with the richly coloured sense of adventure inherent in nature in all its glory.  The deep greens that permeate most of the illustrations are so lush and inviting that I just couldn’t help plunging on in to this story. Within Nora’s imagination, her grandma’s small garden morphs into the home of butterflies the size of birds, a grumpy polar bear fishing in the pond and some extremely robust (and hungry) plants.  Young readers will love trying to spot the tiger in the earlier pages of the book and there is plenty of visual humour for older ones to notice and enjoy also.  If you have a young explorer in your midst, they will revel in this tale that celebrates things that are more than they seem on the surface.

Brand it with:

Wild green yonder; imagine that; grandma’s secret garden

My Friend Tertius (Corinne Fenton & Owen Swan)

*We received a copy of this title from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:

my-friend-tertius

My Friend Tertius by Corinne Fenton & Owen Swan.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 22 February 2016.  RRP: $24.99

A WWII code breaker working in Singapore for the British takes a gibbon for a pet.  When the war forces him to leave Singapore, he makes the decision not to abandon his friend, but smuggle him along on the journey.

Muster up the motivation because…

…for one thing, there certainly is a dearth of war related picture books featuring a gibbon on the market, so My Friend Tertius fills that niche nicely. The washed out colour palette is reminiscent of the tropical heat of the southern hemisphere, and there are many historical clues hidden in the pictures for keen-eyed young readers to inquire about – the radio set in Arthur’s room for instance, Arthur’s neatly initialed gladstone bag and the fact that most pictures of people show at least somebody smoking a cigarette.  This was a bit of a strange beast of a tale for me – on one hand, it is fascinating, unexpected and had me immediately questioning the hows and whys of the story. On the other, the picture book format meant that I didn’t get the answers I was looking for. The narrative begins abruptly with a question that presupposes a knowledge of the social context of war generally – that people might have to leave – and the War in the Pacific specifically – that people did have to leave Singapore, with or without their loved ones.  The book has no afterword giving more information about Arthur Cooper and the eventual fate of either man or gibbon, and the book finishes on the rather cryptic statement “He [Tertius] taught me how to love.”  This is cryptic because nowhere in the previous pages of the book is there any mention of Arthur having any particular difficulty with human emotions, so I found myself asking, “How? How did he teach you to love? And why didn’t you know how to love in the first place?!” These questions, as well as my inner pedant’s shock at Arthur’s laissez faire attitude toward animal quarantine issues, meant that this wasn’t a particularly satisfying read for me as an adult reader, and I wonder how it might be received by the upper primary age range for which it is intended.  To be honest, I would have loved to have seen this story told in a chapter book format because I suspect there is so much more to the story than is being shown, and it is a pity not to be privy to it.

Brand it with:

Monkey business; BFFs in wartime; gibbons on the run

Bet you weren’t expecting any of those mind expanding picture books, were you?  I hope there is something here that tickles your synapses and causes you to add it to your TBR pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Eclectic Chaos” Edition…

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I’ve got five books for you to chase down today, from middle grade adventure to adult paranormal to non-fiction art and photography, so saddle up, get your eye on your quarry and let’s hunt those tomes!

Tree Houses Reimagined: Luxurious Retreats for Tranquility and Play (Blue Forest & E. Ashley Rooney)

*We received a copy of Tree Houses Reimagined from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  treehouses-reimagined

Did you have (or yearn for) a treehouse as a kid?  This book is a collection of imagination-expanding treehouses featuring child-like creativity and adult engineering.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you love to browse Pinterest or other sites for inspirational images, then this book will be one you’ll want to “pin” to your coffee table for easy access.  The book features a diverse collection of actual treehouses from around the world (although mostly in the UK) that have been designed to reflect the imaginings of their owners.  Some look like fantasy castles with turrets, while others are designed to blend into the environment.  Quite a number feature those metal slippery slides of old that would take the skin off the back of your legs on a hot day.  The images also show the interiors of many of the treehouses, noting their special features. It was quite fascinating to read about how the builders had to use special techniques to place the foundations of the treehouses without disturbing the root systems of the trees.  It also includes lots of architectural drawings and floor plans of the featured houses.   I really wanted (and expected) to love this book and hoped it would fire my imagination and provide me with a warm fuzzy feeling that these places truly exist, but instead I became more and more irritated by the fact that the majority of these treehouses are owned by rich people and therefore beyond the reach of the average person ever to attain.  The further I read, the more bitter I became, until by the end I was angrily swiping the pages and thinking, “Keep your damn treehouses, Richie Rich!” If you are not as small minded and bitter an individual as I am, you’ll probably enjoy this tome.

Brand it with:

Up where we belong; hangin’ out; fun with timber

The Ferryman Institute (Colin Gigl)

*We received a copy of The Ferryman Institute from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the-ferryman-institute

Charlie is a Ferryman – a guide charged with catching souls as they die and guiding them towards their individual afterlife – for over 200 years and has never failed on an assignment.  When, during a fairly simple assignment he is faced with a hitherto unencountered choice, Charlie must decide whether to take the opportunity presented to him or carry on with the status quo.

Muster up the motivation because:

As “afterlife” stories go, this one is well-constructed with a deeply considered world.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find it to have the pace and action to go with the deeply considered world and DNFed at 34%.  While I found the first part of the story and the set-up of the institute and its patrons, and Charlie’s surprise choice, quite interesting, the author continually slowed down the action by introducing Charlie’s philosophical issues with his life as a Ferryman through extensive chunks of dialogue with his colleagues.  I certainly feel like I was reading long enough to have covered far more than 34% of the story.  The book flicks back and forth in time and place, opening with the events that lead to Charlie being presented with an unexpected choice, and then swapping between Charlie’s life at the institute and the events in Alice’s life that lead to her being moments from death, and a major factor in Charlie’s fate.  For me, this was a slow-burner that I just wasn’t prepared to be patient with.

Brand it with:

Key in the door; decisions, decisions; change of career

The Adventures of Pipi the Pink Monkey (Carlo Collodi & Alessandro Gallenzi)

*We received a copy of The Adventures of Pipi the Pink Monkey from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Ten Second Synopsis:  pipi

Pipi lives with his monkey family in the jungle and happens to be pink.  This isn’t the only thing that sets him apart though – Pipi is the most mischievous monkey you’ll ever meet!

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a re-branding of Collodi’s (of Pinocchio fame) Pipi stories which were originally published in the early 1880s.  The tone of the stories exudes that old-fashioned feel, with the language reminiscent of Blyton or your standard fairy tale, with a dash of Roald Dahl.  Pipi really is a naughty little monkey; a risk-taker who isn’t afraid to break the rules if doing so will satisfy his curiousity.  Young readers will find plenty to giggle about in Pipi’s tricky adventures, and parents will be pleased to see that Pipi gets his comeuppance a few times, though it is never enough to put him off his next bout of mischief.  There are small illustrations peppered throughout the text (by Axel Scheffler, no less!) but I would have liked to have seen more of these to make the book a little more accessible for youngsters.  The final pages of the book include some easy-to-read information about Collodi’s life and works (including a hilarious letter from the author to his young fans about the importance of keeping your word), the characters in Pipi, and a quiz about the events of the book.  If you are a fan of classic stories (or would like your mini-fleshlings to become so), this is a quality revision of the original tales, with added extras to entice the youngsters in.

Brand it with:

Monkey business; truth and fibs; classics reimagined

Fizzlebert Stump and the Great Supermarket Showdown (A.F. Harrold)

*We received a copy of Fizzlebert Stump from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  fizzlebert

Fizzlebert (Fizz to his friends), member of a travelling circus, finds himself in an unexpected position when the circus is sold to a local supermarket.  Will Fizz and his friends be able to use their special skills to serve the supermarket – or is there a way to return to the circus?

Muster up the motivation because:

Fizzlebert Stump delivers plenty of offbeat humour and general silliness and if you are a fan of the humorous stylings of folk like David Walliams, you should find plenty to enjoy here.  I was quite relieved at the book unexpectedly beginning with Chapter Four, given that it made me feel like I had made progress before I had even started reading, but this is cleared up in due course and the book re-starts at Chapter One.  Having not read the earlier five books in the series was not a problem thanks to the very thorough narrator (who interjects at regular intervals to take the reader off at a tangent) thoughtfully presenting a concise recap of important things to know about Fizz and the circus.  Essentially, this story features a blackmail attempt that results in the circus folk being forced to work as cashiers, packers and night staff at Pinkbottle’s supermarket, with predictably ridiculous results.  Luckily though, Fizz and his friend Alice are on the case and all ends well, provided you consider police officers being shanghaied into impromptu circus acts a satisfying ending.  The book is peppered with black and white illustrations throughout, and the general presentation is designed to inspire fun and reflect the chaotic and quirky life of Fizz and his circus family.  If you have a mini-fleshling who is at chapter book level and loves stories featuring silliness and slapstick, the Fizzlebert Stump series, and this offering in particular, could be a savvy choice.

Brand it with:

No business like show business; the daily grind; this place is a circus

Quest of the Sunfish: Escape to the Moon Islands #1 (Mardi McConnochie)

*We received a copy of Quest of the Sunfish from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  quest-of-the-sunfish

In a world suffering the effects of rising sea levels, Will and Annalie live a simple existence with their father Spinner.  When Spinner must suddenly disappear to avoid capture by the Admiralty, Will and Annalie discover that there was more to their father than they could ever have imagined.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is an adventurous story set in a world that has adjusted to rising sea levels and the unexpected loss of livelihood and lifestyle.  The book begins with an exciting scene in which Spinner has moments in which to escape from mysterious people coming to get him and Will is left in the dark as to what is happening and why.  His sister, Annalie, ensconced at her fancy boarding school, is questioned by members of the Admiralty as to her father’s whereabouts, and it is obvious to both siblings that their father is in danger.  Being a general fan of seafaring stories, I expected to enjoy this one but I ended up DNFing at page 77, after about ten chapters.  I could see that the adventure part was about to get underway, but the pace was moving too slowly for my liking so I made the decision to leave the story there.  The author has gone to a lot of trouble to set up the world and the characters, but I felt that there was too much “telling” rather than “showing” going on and I couldn’t conjure up any imagery of the world as I was reading to anchor me in the story.  I suspect I could have enjoyed this more if I had no competing reads to compare it with, but after an interesting opening few chapters, this one didn’t measure up for me.

Brand it with:

Salty seadogs; environmental disaster; escape!

So, me hearties, which of these titles will you be rounding up today?

Until next time,
Bruce