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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augie hobble

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Easy Way Out: An Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review…

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Before I kick off, I should probably mention that WordPress kindly reminded me that it was my four-year blogiversary a few days ago, so have a celebratory snack on me, if you like.

Today’s book is one that will inspire conversation, get your little grey cells pumping and place you in an ethical conundrum from which there may be no return.  It’s also an enjoyable read.  I speak of The Easy Way Out by Stephen Amsterdam, which we received from Hachette Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

If you could help someone in pain, would you?

Evan is a nurse, a suicide assistant. His job is legal . . . just. He’s the one at the hospital who hands out the last drink to those who ask for it.

Evan’s friends don’t know what he does during the day. His mother, Viv, doesn’t know what he’s up to at night. And his supervisor suspects there may be trouble ahead.

As he helps one patient after another die, Evan pushes against legality, his own morality and the best intentions of those closest to him, discovering that his own path will be neither quick nor painless.

He knows what he has to do.

In this powerful novel, award-winning author Steven Amsterdam challenges readers to face the most taboo and heartbreaking of dilemmas. Would you help someone end their life?

the-easy-way-out

Read it if:

* you think George R. R. Martin got it right and prefer a book where nearly everyone dies by the end

*you suspect you’ve got the right sort of temperament, character and belief system to fill the role of a nurse in the assisted-dying unit

*you’re looking for a book that the people in your book club will actually read – instead of pretend to read

*you like books about big issues that don’t rely on preachiness or shock tactics to present their message

This isn’t the first novel featuring assisted dying (or euthanasia or suicide or whatever you want to call it) I’ve read, but Amsterdam impressed me here with the subtle way in which the topic has been approached.  That might seem like an odd statement to make – a book that plainly states that it’s about assisted dying might hardly be deemed to be “subtle” – but Amsterdam has done a brilliant job of laying out many of the complexities, be they legal, ethical or practical, that surround the idea of assisted dying and allowing the reader to absorb these without steering the discourse in a particular direction.

Without making it obvious, the author has included all types of end-of-life choices throughout the novel, including suicide of the conventional type (if we can call it that), the “pre-planned” type of assisted dying that features a clear end-of-life directive, the “look the other way” sort of medically assisted dying that goes on in hospitals all the time for those who are terminally ill and in pain, and the “legally sanctioned” assisted dying of which Evan’s job is a key part.  Simply by including a wide range of characters whose deaths impact on the story, Amsterdam has neatly thrown out the question to both advocates and those opposing an individual’s right to choose their death as to how this concept can be managed realistically.

If you’re the sort of person who has strong views on whether or not an individual should have the right to choose the manner and time of their death, this book is going to provide plenty of fodder for your thought-processes.  Should a mentally ill or socially isolated person have the same access to end-of-life processes as a terminally ill person, for instance?  Should a family’s objections to an end-of-life choice have a bearing on the access to assisted death of the person choosing to die?  What should happen if the person has made a clear choice but is physically unable to carry it out by the time the legal processes are finalised?  I certainly don’t have the answers, but I’m glad that this book has raised these questions (and more!) for pondering.

I should also point out the ending is satisfyingly ambiguous also, which is a clever touch.

Apart from being an “issues” book, The Easy Way Out is also an absorbing and highly readable novel.  Depending on how deeply you want to engage with the ethical content of the story, the book could certainly be read as a sort of grown-up “coming of age” novel that just happens to feature a main character in a highly unusual job.  Evan, the protagonist, does an awful lot of growing and soul-searching throughout the novel as things he thought were clear in his mind become muddied by one life experience or another.  His relationships, family history and work environment all force him to re-evaluate things he thought were obvious, and as his situation changes, so too does his ability to be sure of his decisions.  I particularly liked the authenticity of Evan as a character and the fact that he sits in that hazy position in which most of us have found ourselves at one time or another – that of being completely sure of something until we aren’t – and the absolute upheaval that this can cause on a personal level.

If you’re looking for a reasonably quick read that also provides some food for thought and a cast of fascinating characters, I’d definitely recommend taking The Easy Way Out…off the shelf and giving it a go.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Nevernight: A YA, Read-it-if Review…

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read it if NEW BUTTON

You might want to put aside any distractions before reading this review, because today’s book is one that will require your full attention.  Nevernight by Jay Kristoff is a new release YA (although probably closer to adult) fiction novel set in a whole new world that is worth diving into if you have the time to devote to it.  There’s a great deal of buzz around this book at the moment, and having finally finished it, we can see why it’s receiving such high praise.  We received our copy from HarperCollins Australia for review (thanks!) and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Destined to destroy empires Mia Covere is only ten years old when she is given her first lesson in death.

Six years later, the child raised in the shadows takes her first steps towards keeping the promise she made on the day that she lost everything.

But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, so if she is to have her revenge, Mia must become a weapon without equal. She must prove herself against the deadliest of friends and enemies, and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and demons at the heart of a murder cult.

The Red Church is no Hogwarts, but Mia is no ordinary student. The shadows loves her. And they drink her fear.

nevernight

Read it if:

*you loved Harry Potter but wished it could have had about 98% more throat-slitting action

*you loved Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom Trilogy but wished it could have had about 76% more throat-slitting action

*you can’t go past a book that features incredibly violent acts described in potently lyrical fashion

*you don’t mind lugging around a book whose size makes it equally suited to acting as a doorstop for a giant’s doggy door or clubbing baby seals to death

*you have been aching, yearning, praying for an upper YA (really, almost adult fiction) tale set in a wholly original world, featuring deeply explored characters, evocative and masterful prose and the promise of a trilogy that is worth waiting for

Two things I have to tell you about this book straight off are: (1) It’s a right old chunker at 643 pages and (2) while the writing was obviously of a high quality right from the very first page, this one was a slow-burn for us, but one that we warmed to more and more as time went on.  Initially, on seeing how big this book is, I didn’t think I’d be able to get through it in a reasonable amount of time given my review schedule, but the first few chapters are so lyrically written, with such a distinctive and engaging voice, that I was sucked in almost immediately.

The book is split into three parts.  The first deals mostly with Mia’s family history and the events that have led her to seeking a place in the Red Church – the guild (society? club? religion?) of murderers and assassins.  Straight off the bat there are some pretty explicit sex scenes and hardcore language, so I wouldn’t be passing this one on to any thirteen-year-olds unless they are of the particularly worldly variety.  The second part felt like nothing so much as a Hogwarts for murderers, and although it seems odd for such graphic content, the middle of the book really did exude an undercurrent of every “boarding school” story ever written (although with far less ginger beer and midnight feasts).  I was definitely far more engaged during this part of the story, but it was also during this section that I started to lose hope that I would ever finish.

So I put the book down.  Faced with the pressures to finish such a massive tome, I crumbled and nearly decided to abandon it, despite my enjoyment of the story.

But then….then my friends, fate threw me a line.

I somehow managed to find some uninterrupted reading time and decided to plough on with Nevernight until I finished (or died in the attempt).  And it was in doing so, that I really found an attachment to the story and the characters.

By the third part of the story, there have been so many killings that it’s a wonder anyone is left in the Red Church at all.  In fact, if you removed every mention of a slit throat, stabbed chest, or other flesh wound, I am certain that this book would come in at under 200 pages.  Regardless, the action takes a dramatic upswing in this final chapter as twists abound and all that we thought was a given is swooshed around and turned on its head.  Given the originality of the world here, I couldn’t really predict what might happen in the end anyway, but still I was surprised by the ending.  The final section of the book reminded me strongly of Garth Nix’s Lirael (the second of the Old Kingdom Trilogy and my favourite of the three), as Mia and Lirael’s stories resonated in certain parts and I found myself becoming far more sympathetic to Mia’s character.

Nevernight is definitely the kind of book that deserves undivided attention.   Once I found some time to devote solely to immersing myself in the story, my enjoyment in it doubled, so I would suggest if you are going to pick it up, to make it your “one and only” book until you’ve finished it.  The writing and world-building are hugely original and are best appreciated when given time to percolate through your brain.  While none of the characters are saints (nor claim to be), they are the most memorable bunch of cold-blooded murderers you could ever hope not to meet and I recommend delving into their story.

I can’t even imagine how the next two books in the series will pan out.

Until next time,

Bruce