Giveaway! Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas

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It’s giveaway time!  I received a copy of Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas from Walker Books Australia for review.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t my cup of tea – more about that in a minute – so it’s time to send it on to a more loving home.  To enter the giveaway, which is open internationally (hooray!), scroll down a bit.  But if you actually want to know something about the book you are hoping to win, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It was just another ordinary day at McKinley High—until a massive explosion devastated the school. When loner David Thorpe tried to help his English teacher to safety, the teacher convulsed and died right in front of him. And that was just the beginning.

A year later, McKinley has descended into chaos. All the students are infected with a virus that makes them deadly to adults. The school is under military quarantine. The teachers are gone. Violent gangs have formed based on high school social cliques. Without a gang, you’re as good as dead. And David has no gang. It’s just him and his little brother, Will, against the whole school.

quarantine

I had high hopes for this one but unfortunately I gave up after about four chapters and 45ish pages.  I had three main problems with what I read.  The first of these is that the narrative style focused far more on telling than showing, and so I didn’t feel drawn in to the story.

The second is that the major plot point of the book – that the kids have somehow contracted a virus that is deadly to adults – is just sort of plonked into the text.  There is no indication of how this happened or why or anything.  Admittedly, this could be explained after page 45 and I would be none the wiser, but essentially what I’m saying is that there was not enough believable world-building in the early stages for me to want to stick with it.

**For examples of parts of the story that stopped me from suspending my disbelief, see the below paragraphs.  If you take my word for it, feel free to skip the below paragraphs**

Examples of this include the fact that the army has cordoned off the school within minutes of the first teacher’s death – why (and how??) could they do this unless they were involved? (I don’t know if they’re involved because I finished at page 45, but this was the only logical reason I could think of for the army to be there so quick.)

Another example is the fact that the teacher who dies in front of David (the main character) takes time out from vomiting up his internal organs to warn David to “stay back!”.  Why? If I was literally spewing my guts up, I’d want the nearest person to help me, not stay back.  Did the teacher know that David was causing his death, and if so, how did he know?

Finally, there is a scene in which the boys carry the corpse of the aforementioned dead teacher to a sort of makeshift burial ground (actually, a collection of lockers).  This scene is noted as being two weeks after the death of the teacher.  At no point are maggots mentioned.  I would have expected (and the most cursory of glances at the first webpage about corpse decomposition I came across confirms this) that the body, at two weeks after death, would be crawling with maggots and doused in more than a little seepage of bodily fluid.  Yet this is not mentioned.  Further to this, the teacher-burial-locker thing seems quite an organised operation, but no mention is made of who organised it, how everyone agreed to it etc, etc….

**Okay, examples over.  Normal service now resumes**

The straw that broke the gargoyle’s back however, was a mention on pages 44 and 45 that was particularly telling to me regarding how women were going to be portrayed in this book.

Picture it: A month after hundreds of teenagers are left to their own devices in a locked school, with food only provided through occasional airdrops, the main characters burst into a girl’s toilet while on the run from an angry mob.  This is mere pages after a boy is stabbed through the throat with a piece of wood.  Guess what the girls in the bathroom are doing.

Go on, guess.

Dying their hair with a packet of Kool-Aid.

I effing kid you not.

So, the authors expect us to believe that in a life-or-death situation, wherein food is scarce and, as has just been demonstrated, people will literally KILL to get it, these young ladies are not only misusing a foodstuff that could be used to boost their daily calorie intake, but are also seemingly more worried about their looks than, oh, I don’t know, being locked up with hundreds of hormonal, angry, mob-based teen boys where the risk of rape or violent attack would be astronomical.

And so I stopped reading.  Because if the lacklustre narrative style and lack of basic research weren’t bad enough, there was no way I was going to sit through a book in which young women are portrayed as looks-obsessed halfwits even as the world collapses around them.

Having said that, the book is getting a majority of four and five star reviews on Goodreads, so what the hell do I know?  Hence, the giveaway!

If you would like to be the forever home of Quarantine: The Loners (kindly provided by Walker Books Australia), just click on the rafflecopter link below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

An MG Double-Dip: Bubbles and Boy Bands…

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

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

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

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

Dip into it for…girl vs boy band

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

Don’t dip if…

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

Overall Dip Factor

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

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

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

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

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

Dip into it for…the bubble boy

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

Don’t dip if…

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

Overall Dip Factor

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

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

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

The Radium Girls: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review….

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If you are into historical nonfiction stories that will leave you gobsmacked at the levels to which people will stoop to avoid paying compensation to someone they’ve hurt, then today’s book will be right up your street.  We received The Radium Girls from Simon & Schuster Australia for review and by gum is it a cracker of a read!  Check out the blurb from Goodreads and then tell me that you’re not interested in finding out more…go on, I dare you!

Ordinary women in 1920s America.

All they wanted was the chance to shine.

Be careful what you wish for.
 
‘The first thing we asked was, “Does this stuff hurt you?” And they said, “No.” The company said that it wasn’t dangerous, that we didn’t need to be afraid.’

1917. As a war raged across the world, young American women flocked to work, painting watches, clocks and military dials with a special luminous substance made from radium. It was a fun job, lucrative and glamorous – the girls themselves shone brightly in the dark, covered head to toe in the dust from the paint. They were the radium girls.
  As the years passed, the women began to suffer from mysterious and crippling illnesses. The very thing that had made them feel alive – their work – was in fact slowly killing them: they had been poisoned by the radium paint. Yet their employers denied all responsibility. And so, in the face of unimaginable suffering – in the face of death – these courageous women refused to accept their fate quietly, and instead became determined to fight for justice.
Drawing on previously unpublished sources – including diaries, letters and court transcripts, as well as original interviews with the women’s relatives  – The Radium Girls is an intimate narrative account of an unforgettable true story. It is the powerful tale of a group of ordinary women from the Roaring Twenties, who themselves learned how to roar.

radium girls

And here are Five Things I’ve Learned From The Radium Girls by Kate Moore:

1. Exhibiting a “glow” is not always an indicator of good health.  

2. When addressing someone who has recently lost an arm due to industrial poisoning, it is inadvisable to assert that they “look like they have nothing wrong with them”.

3. If the company for which you work takes out full page ads in all the major papers proclaiming how safe their working environment is, it’s probably a good time to consider getting the WH&S people in.

4. People will lie blatantly, repeatedly and to one’s face if they fear having to pay compensation to a wounded party.

5. It’s okay to pretend to be a doctor and carry out medical tests for which you are woefully unqualified provided you (a) are a man and (b) are being well paid by a dodgy company boss.

What a fantastically absorbing read! I suspected that the story of the “Radium Girls” as they became known would be a pretty interesting one, but the pacing and informative style adopted by Moore really set this book apart. The book begins by introducing the reader to the young women who gained work at a factory painting luminous clock dials with radium paint in New Jersey in 1917. Some as young as fourteen, the workers fought hard to bag these painting jobs because the pay was above average for similar positions, and came with the added benefit of a “healthy” glow – the radium residue on the girls’ clothing, skin and hair literally made them glow when they left the factory. As we meet each of the girls in turn and soon become privy to the horrifying sicknesses that begin to plague them, Moore brings in a second set of dial-painters, this time from Ottawa, so we are able to see the whole shocking pattern played out simultaneously in two different cities.

Two scenes in the book stood out particularly for me, but for different reasons.  The first, quite early on in the piece, recounts how one of the women’s dentists, Dr Knef, was working inside his patient’s mouth and ended up lifting out her entire jawbone.  Let that sink in for a moment.  He pulled out HER ENTIRE JAWBONE.  Talk about developing a healthy fear of dentists.  Not satisfied that this was an extraordinary enough experience, he then decided to keep the jawbone in his desk drawer because he didn’t know what else to do with it.  I can’t help but feel he might have at least offered it back to the woman out of whom it came.

The second scene that stood out for me came toward the very end of the book, during which a foreman who was well known as a company man for many years in Ottawa and oversaw the dial painters, blatantly lies while under oath in one of the compensation hearings, stating (in front of the women he worked with, no less!) that he never even worked for the company. Ever.  This might be a good tactic to keep in the back pocket for the next time you find yourself in a sticky situation – just pretend that obvious, long-held facts that can be corroborated by any number of pieces of evidence is simply untrue.  After reading this bizarre attempt to avoid trouble, I myself felt like leaping through the pages and punching this bloke in the face, so I can’t imagine how the women at the hearing felt having to actually hear it themselves.
The descriptions of the suffering of these women can be quite harrowing at times – gazing over a photograph of one of the women, I assumed she had adopted a stylish, cross-legged pose for the camera, but the author reveals that her hip bones actually became fused that way, so that the woman was unable to uncross her legs at any time – but by the end of the epic journey to justice, one can’t help but feel admiration for these two separate groups of women who fought not only against blatant lies and injustice from the company that employed them, but from gender bias that placed mens’ health above women’s. More frustrating still is the fact that similar stories of corporations valuing profit over the safety and health of their workers are still ridiculously common today.  While I felt quite moved by the women’s stories and the courage and determination they showed under enormous misfortune, I couldn’t take away any lasting satisfaction because I could think of at least one major fight going on in the world against a company in South America for similar dastardly behaviour as well as the recent fight of victims of asbestos-related diseases against James Hardie here in Australia.
Moore has done a good job of dividing the story into sections so as to avoid information overload. Each section is deeply engaging in its own right and the stories have been structured so that just as the New Jersey women begin to pursue (and in some cases, achieve) some sort of recompense, the Ottawa women seem to begin the process anew, with all the same frustrations and rather more sinister misdirection from their employer.

The book contains some photographs of the women and other major players in a section in the middle. While this was an interesting addition, I would have also have liked to see a “cast of characters” as it were, at the beginning – this might have added a whole new dimension to the story if we could see who suffered what and in what timeframe.

I thoroughly recommend this book as an eye-opening jaunt into the lives of some incredibly inspirational women and their supporters.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Shouty Doris interjects during….Lily and the Octopus!

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Shouty Doris interjects

Doris and I are with you today to discuss a new release contemporary novel that features some major elements of magical realism and at least one characterful dog.  As we all know, Shouty Doris is a big mouth  a blabberchops free with her opinions, so I’m warning you now, this review may contain SPOILERS.  You have been warned.

We received a copy of Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Combining the emotional depth of The Art of Racing in the Rain with the magical spirit of The Life of Pi, Lily and the Octopus is an epic adventure of the heart.

When you sit down with Lily and the Octopus, you will be taken on an unforgettable ride.

The magic of this novel is in the read, and we don’t want to spoil it by giving away too many details. We can tell you that this is a story about that special someone: the one you trust, the one you can’t live without.

For Ted Flask, that someone special is his aging companion Lily, who happens to be a dog. Lily and the Octopus reminds us how it feels to love fiercely, how difficult it can be to let go, and how the fight for those we love is the greatest fight of all.

Remember the last book you told someone they had to read? Lily and the Octopus is the next one.

lily and the octopus

So Lily and the Octopus centres around young man and his relationship with his aging dachshund, Lily.  Things are going mediocre-ly for Ted, when he discovers an … octopus… on Lily’s head.

Shouty Doris interjects

Octopus indeed. He’s not fooling anyone.

Yes, well, I’d have to agree with you there, and I don’t think it’s particularly a spoiler to say that the octopus is not a literal octopus but a figurative one, indicative of the fact that Lily is sick.  Possibly life-threateningly sick, as frequently happens with pets of a certain age.  The point is, Ted refers to this …thing.. as an octopus for almost the whole book and even ends up having conversations with it.  Therein lies the magical realism in the story.

Shouty Doris interjects

Therein lies the lunacy more like.  That Ted needs to get out more.  He’s far too co-dependent on that dog if you ask me.  A grown man, too.  

Ted is indeed very invested in his relationship with his dog.  He is in between romantic relationships and on discovering the cephalopodic threat to Lily, begins to withdraw from his friends even more.  As the book continues, we discover more about the back story as to how Ted came to be Lily’s owner, and a previous life-threatening illness that Lily overcame.  We are even privy to his weekly battles with his therapist, Jenny.

Shouty Doris interjects

Why on earth would you waste money on a therapist for whose opinion you are indifferent?  He has more money than sense, that Ted.    Anyone who spends money on inflatable sharks needs their head examined if you ask me.

You’ve brought up a good point there, Doris –

Shouty Doris interjects

All my points are good points. 

– because up until about two-thirds into the story, the only bizarre thing about the book is Ted’s unwillingness to address Lily’s octopus for what it really is.  Once the book hits the two-thirds mark however, the magical realism is ratcheted up a notch and a number of chapters go full allegorical mode as Ted battles his inner demons on a very strange stage indeed.  I shan’t spoil any of that bit for you –

Shouty Doris interjects

Can I, though?

– no – but I found it to be a bit much for my tastes.  It is certainly the most action-packed part of the book and an important turning point for Ted, but by that stage, I knew what the outcome was likely to be, had accepted it, and was just waiting for Ted to do the same.

Shouty Doris interjects

He was very slow on the uptake, wasn’t he?  Everyone knows that any time a cute, cuddly animal appears in a book or film, it’s one hundred per cent certain that it will end up – 

THANKS DORIS!  I think I hear The Bold and the Beautiful starting! I’ll shut the door so we don’t disturb you!

Shouty Doris interjects

*Shuffle, shuffle, creak*  

Alright, Ridge-y boy, come and tell Doris all about it.

Right, now she’s gone, we don’t have to worry about major spoilers.  Although…I have to say that overall, I didn’t particularly connect with Ted as a character, despite his everyman status, apart from the shared experience of pet ownership and the inevitable existential angst – for ourselves or by proxy – with which many of us grapple.  I did find this to be an interesting, if not riveting, read and enjoyed how the author at least took a risk on the magical realism aspects to explore the more depressing parts of human existence and its inevitable finality.  The ending is hopeful and quite charming really, so if you are a fan of subtly humorous ponderings about the looming demise of each of us as individuals, and you love a cute dog story (for Lily truly is a little cutey, with a distinctive voice) then this would be a great pick.

Until next time,

Bruce (and Doris)