Funny “Ha-Ha” and Funny “Peculiar”: A Double Dip Review That May Contain Oddity…

1

image

Today’s double dip requires a whimsical, unexpected sort of a snack.  A snack that makes you giggle and might cause others to look at you askance while you snack upon your unlikely choice of foodstuff.  The books I have for you today are a delightful blend of the funny and the peculiar, the delightful and the unexpected…so I shan’t burden you with my ramblings any longer. Let’s dip in!

First we have Sad Animal Facts by Brooke Barker, which we received with glee from PanMacmillan Australia.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A delightful and quirky compendium of the Animal Kingdom’s more unfortunate truths, with over 150 hand-drawn illustrations.

Ever wonder what a mayfly thinks of its one-day lifespan? (They’re curious what a sunset is.) Or how a jellyfish feels about not having a heart? (Sorry, but they’re not sorry.)

This melancholy menagerie pairs the more unsavory facts of animal life with their hilarious thoughts and reactions. Sneakily informative, and wildly witty, SAD ANIMAL FACTS will have you crying with laughter.

30991264

Sad Animal Facts by Brooke Barker. Published by PanMacmillan Australia, 30th August, 2016. RRP: $19.99

Dip into it for…  

…a not-to-be-missed opportunity to revel in an atmosphere of schadenfreude directed squarely at our animal friends.  Most times, when a blurb promises that I will laugh out loud or that the contents of said book is hysterically funny, I become immediately wary that the actual level of humorous content is sadly lacking.  Sad Animal Facts did, however, have me laughing aloud within the first three pages, and by the end I’m pretty sure a little laughter-tear had leaked out.  I’m pretty sure that no matter how much you love animals and deplore your suffering, it will be hard not to have a little mean-spirited giggle at the predicaments of some of the animals contained within.  There’s the poor old long-tailed skink who embodies the shame of every hungry and impulsive human that ever lived, the gorilla who is as disgusted by your poor hygiene practices as the rest of us are (wash your damn hands, dammit!), and the downcast gnu who know exactly how multiple-birth kids feel about sharing birthdays.  The illustrations are sparse, simple and perfectly capture the various glumnesses of a menagerie of cute and crestfallen animals.

Don’t dip if…

…you can’t bring yourself to have a giggle at the woes of animals large and small.  And if that is the case, allow me to note what a sad little animal you are.

Overall Dip Factor
If this chunky little tome isn’t made into a desk-sized, tear-off calendar in time for this year’s office Kris Kringle season, then someone has dropped a huge marketing ball.  Sad Animal Facts is exactly that kind of read – one to flick through at leisure and enjoy piecemeal, savouring a few animal adversities at a time.  I would love to see a few copies of this one dropped into the waiting rooms of hospitals and, perhaps, funeral homes, to see how long it takes for someone to laugh inappropriately loudly in such a space while flicking through this book. I would definitely recommend this one to lovers of humour and illustration, and as the perfect gift for that acquaintance who likes to complain a lot about their situation in life.

Next up we have The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami and translated from the original Japanese by Allison Markin Powell, which we excitedly received from Allen & Unwin for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Hitomi takes a job on the cash register of a neighbourhood thrift store, she finds herself drawn into a very idiosyncratic community. There is Mr Nakano, an enigmatic ladies’ man with several ex-wives; Masayo, Mr Nakano’s sister, an artist who has never married; and her fellow employee Takeo, a shy but charming young man. And every day, customers from the neighbourhood pass in and out as curios are bought and sold, each one containing its own surprising story. When Hitomi and Takeo begin to fall for one another, they find themselves in the centre of their own drama – and on the edges of many others.

A tender and affecting exploration of the mystery that lurks in the ordinary, this novel traces the seemingly imperceptible threads that weave together a community, and the knots that bind us to one another.

29203644

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami. Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th August, 2016. RRP: $27.99

Dip into it for…  

…a quirky, funny and dreamy story that drills down on the relationships between the employees of a Japanese thrift shop.  Our excitement upon receiving a copy of this book could have been considered unseemly; Mad Martha adores thrift shops, flea markets, suitcase rummages and any opportunity to rifle through strangers’ cast-offs, so the chance to read about a Japanese version of the same was enticing indeed.  What this ended up reminding me of the most, oddly, was the narrative style of Alexander McCall Smith, with its intense focus on relationships and conversations, and a plot that is clearly secondary to the characters.  I could not help but become enamoured of Hitomi, the narrator, self-deprecating as she was, and Mr Nakano is so well described that a distinct image of him (adorned with a bobble hat) sprung immediately into my mind.  Masayo seems to be a strange yet endearing version of comic relief, often bringing up indecorous topics to be reviewed in the cold light of conversation, and Takeo…well, he seems like an enigma, wrapped in a puzzle, wrapped in a shirt.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re hoping for a book with a solid plot.  As I mentioned, this story is about the characters and their interactions, and as such, nothing in particular “happens”.  The chapters work more like separate but consecutive snapshots into the lives of the characters, with a specific small event forming the focal point of each snapshot.

Overall Dip Factor

I interpreted the blurb to mean that the story would focus a fair bit on the customers of the shop, and the stories behind their items for sale or purchase, but the heart of the book really is Hitomi and her relationships with Takeo, Mr Nakano and Masayo.  There are a few other characters that influence the story – Sakiko, Mr Nakano’s mistress of the moment, is the most significant of these, but a few trading partners and customers have stories of their own highlighted throughout.  This style of narrative is certainly not going to appeal to everyone.  Some readers just need some kind of action to hold their interest.  I found that this one grew on my as I was reading and while I started off enjoying the dry and quirky humour, I remained reading because I really wanted to know what was going to happen for each of the four main characters.  This is a story that will no doubt stick in my head for a while yet.

Alas, it is now time for you to finish your peculiar snack and decide which of these books (or both!) you will be popping on your TBR list next!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Thank Goodness it’s TBR Friday!

1

TBR Friday

I’ve got a gently odd little offering for today’s climb up Mount TBR.  It’s adult fiction (memoir?) The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide and translated by Eric Selland.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another.

One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife; they go walking together, talk and share stories of the cat and its little ways, play in the nearby Garden. But then something happens that will change everything again.

The Guest Cat is an exceptionally moving and beautiful novel about the nature of life and the way it feels to live it. Written by Japanese poet and novelist Takashi Hiraide, the book won Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, and was a bestseller in France and America.

the guest cat

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Probably about a year?  I can’t say exactly as I didn’t buy this one myself.

Acquired:

Received as a birthday gift

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

It’s a very slim tome, so of course I put it off under the logic that as it’s so thin I could pick it up and knock it over anytime.  Also, the sensible, grown up, adultness of the subject matter had me a tiny bit intimidated, even though I asked someone to buy this for me because I wanted to read it.

Best Bits:

  • It’s rare to find such a gentle story in which the content is so limited, yet still engaging: this is literally a man reflecting on his life with his wife and the next-door neighbour’s cat.  I don’t think there’s any massive, deep analogy that I’m missing.  It’s a pretty straightforward reflection on life, relationships and loss. And the habits of cats.
  • The writing is … sublime seems too committed a word, but  maybe majestic could be a good way to describe it.  Majestic without being arrogant.  Rapturous but at the same time, quotidian.  There’s an elevation to the writing which makes the ordinary events being described feel like something important.
  • The book is slim and can be read quite quickly.  Alternatively, the content works well for just taking things a chapter at a time due to the lack of exciting action.
  • If you have a particularly deep love for felines, you will probably delight in the detailed descriptions of the cat’s cute idiosyncracies.
  • There is a section at the back with some notes that give context to some of the events that might be missed or misinterpreted by non-Japanese readers.  I found this quite helpful in re-examining a particular event toward the end.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • The print in this edition is teeny-weeny.
  • Without spoiling the events of the book for you, by the end of the book, the man and his wife seemed a little too attached to the cat to the point that it was interfering with their ability to move on.  Literally move on, since they move house.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Considering it wasn’t my money that paid for it, yes.  Particularly since it isn’t at all my usual type of read, and therefore it is unlikely that I would ever have bought it for myself.

Where to now for this tome?

I will probably pass it on to someone who will enjoy it. Or possibly sell it at a Suitcase Rummage.

This is another chink off the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block.

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Japan for Younger Readers” Edition…

1

image

We’re off to Japan today to explore some titles ostensibly for those younger than I, with three books for middle grade and young adult readers.  Let’s get amongst it!

First up we have a tome that I bought to satisfy my own curiosity about an emerging juggernaut of popular culture (emerging in the West, at least), the Studio Ghibli creation, Totoro.  Of course, being a Bookshelf Gargoyle, I turned first to see if I could experience the story in the printed word before I resorted to DVDs, and behold, there was a beautifully presented, illustrated novelised version of the film for young readers. Oh look, here it is!

My Neighbour Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, novelised by Tsugiko Kubo)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

my neighbour totoro

Satsuki and Mei move to a “haunted house” in the country to be closer to their mother, who is residing in the hospital with an illness. After Mei discovers a forest guardian spirit named Totoro, in the nearby woods, Satsuki is desperate to meet him as well.

Muster up the motivation because…

…Not having seen the film, I can’t say whether or not this is a faithful retelling of the film, but on its own it is a delightful story about two sisters and their move to a new, rural village.  As I was reading I was reminded strongly of the innocence and gentle rhythm of an Enid Blyton story, but without the ginger beers.  I was somewhat disappointed that more of the characters from the fandom didn’t appear in the story – only Totoro himself and the Catbus – but the story focused more on Satsuki and Mei than on the magical creatures.  Similarly, many of the illustrations only featured the girls doing reasonably ordinary things.  Overall, I really loved reading the book but in case you are in a similar position as I, the story covers Satsuki and Mei’s growth in their new home, with only the wispiest wisps of foray into the magical forest world of Totoro.

Brand it with:

forest guardians, weeding and planting, bus stops, getting to know your neighbours

Next up is a darkly comic YA offering….

Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse (Otsuichi, translated by Nathan Collins)

summer fireworks and my corpse

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Satsuki is playing in a tree with her friend, when she is pushed off the branch, falls and dies.  She then narrates the tale of how her murderous friend and the friend’s brother attempt to hide her body so as not to get into trouble.

Muster up the motivation for…

…an absolutely ripper quirky little gem of a tale.  Given that this is a translation, I’m not entirely sure if the translation is a bit clunky or the original voice of the story is simply cold and detached.  I thoroughly enjoyed this short tale, in which Satsuki wryly narrates her experience as a corpse, being dragged (quite literally) from pillar to post by her young friends as they try to escape detection.  The older brother character, Ken, is quite nonchalant about the whole situation, and calmly solves problems as one well-meaning sticky-beak after another threatens to ruin the charade.  The events in the book occur in short enough a time so that things don’t become utterly ridiculous and unbelievable, yet there is still a subtle sense of “Weekend at Bernie’s” that underlies the whole ordeal.  The ending is an absolute cracker that I did not see coming at all and threw the rest of the story into a new light.
As an added bonus, the book includes a second, shorter story featuring dolls, ghosts and a young girl working as a housekeeper in the home of a rich widower.  This story actually had my mind working far more than the main one, with a much more ambiguous, but equally satisfying, ending.

Brand it with:

What’s a little murder between friends?, hide and seek, thanks for the memories

Finally, we have a YA historical fiction with a touch of the ole’ swordplay.

Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale (David Kudler)

risuko

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Risuko, “Squirrel”, wants nothing more than to climb, to escape her home life of poverty.  When she is sold to a travelling noblewoman, her life changes beyond anything she could have imagined, and her father’s legacy will place her in danger.

Muster up the motivation because…

…being a historical novel for young adults set in sixteenth century Japan, this is different enough from the typical YA offering to warrant some attention.  It didn’t turn out to be quite what I expected, and the writing felt too American in voice to be really authentic, but there was enough going on here to hold my interest.  Throughout the book there is the mystery to solve of why Risuko has been taken and what it is she is being trained for, and with most of the characters keeping their cards close to their respective chests, the reader is never exactly sure who is trustworthy.  The Korean chef character was my favourite as he is the only one who seems to be exactly who he seems, although his dialogue is burdened with a weirdly Scottish sounding brogue.  The ending, in an enormous departure from the rest of the novel,  is action-packed and laced with emotion.  Overall, this felt a bit unfinished to me, with pacing issues and an oddly detached narrative voice, but will certainly be of interested to those who are prepared to invest themselves in the character and setting from the get-go.

Brand it with:

living by the sword, onward and upward, born to climb

So there you have it.  I hope there’s something in there for you to get your teeth into.  I will hopefully continue the trend of reading more Japanese books this year – I’ve spotted some very enticing little tomes coming out in the next few months, and I have also ordered the picture book rendering of the My Neighbour Totoro films, so I will be able to report back on whether I have learned anything more of this intriguing pop culture phenomenon.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

A Foolhardy Reading Round-Up: Kidlit Titles for April!

2

image

Welcome to April and a Kid-lit-a-thon Round-Up!  Today’s Round-Up features three picture books and two middle-grade graphic novels.  One of these will be submitted for both the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge AND the Title Fight Reading Challenge, but you’ll have to read on to find out which.  We received all of these titles from Netgalley for review.  Now, let’s get (whip) cracking!

Little Red (Bethan Woollvin)

Ten Second Synopsis: little red.jpg

Red Riding Hood with a skandi twist, this book is a retelling with sass.

Muster up the motivation because:

There are a lot of fairy tale retellings getting around at the moment, but the bold, minimalist colour scheme, chunky woodcut-style illustrations and text that oozes subversive wit sets this one apart.  The general arc of the Red Riding Hood story is preserved here, but Red is presented as one independent and resourceful young lass.  The simple combination of red, black and white in the illustrations is incredibly effective and makes this book a joy to look at, as much as to read.  I’d love to see what is coming next from Woollvin and how she might tackle an original story.

Brand it with:

Girl power, Woodland Survival, You’re Axed!

Far Out Fairy Tales (Joey Comeau, Louise Simonson, Sean Tulien, Otis Frampton)

Ten Second Synopsis: far out fairy tales

This is a collection of fairy tale retellings with a definite pop-culture flavour.  Each fairy tale has been modernised with popular motifs, including zombies, ninjas and computer games.

Muster up the motivation because:

Apart from the graphic novel format, the point of difference in this collection is a neat summary at the end of each story giving the differences between the modernised version and the traditional tale.  While I found most of the tales a little bit too contrived for my tastes – the Cinderella ninja in particular gave me reading-indigestion – they are perfectly pitched for a younger middle grade audience and varied enough for at least one or two of the tales to appeal to every reader.  The standout favourite for me was the retelling of the Billy Goats Gruff, set inside a video game with boss fights and dungeon crawling, but the Snow White story featuring robots was also quite subtle and well thought out.  The illustrations are varied in style and because each retelling has a different author, the book has a sense of the original with each new story.  This would be a great pick for youngsters looking for familiar stories in a fun, graphic format.

Brand it with:

Zombies and Ninjas and Robots, Oh My!, graphic tales, fairy tales levelled up

Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Home (Kazue Takahashi)

Ten Second Synopsis: kuma chan

Kuma Chan is an unassuming little bear.  In this tale, a young boy gets an invitation from Kuma Chan to visit his home, resulting in a relaxed day of doing nothing much at all.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is another classic Japanese character that will have you flip-flopping between “Oh, so Kawaii!” and “What on earth is going on here?”  Apparently Kuma Chan, or Little Bear, is a big hit with mini-fleshlings in Japan and this is the second book in the series.  Kuma Chan himself gets around looking rather bemused most of the time, and nothing much happens in the book, aside from the boy’s journey to Kuma Chan’s house, but overall this is just a delightful read.  The fact that the boy and Kuma Chan literally just hang out together in silence for most of the book results in a calming sense of satisfaction with one’s lot.  I will definitely have to seek out the original book in the series and I would love to see what the Little Bear is up to next.  This would be a perfect choice for a reader of your acquaintance who loves books that defy conventional description.

Brand it with:

Chillin’ with my homies, Bear necessities, kawaii

Squirrel Me Timbers (Louise Pigott)

Ten Second Synopsis: squirrel me timbers

A pirate squirrel must follow a map to discover buried treasure.  Will the treasure live up to his expectations? And what’s a squirrel to do with all that booty?

Muster up the motivation because:

If you are a bit over the whole pirate thing that seems to be booming in children’s books these days, I can guarantee that adding in a squirrely twist livens things up nicely.  The rhymes are a little awkward to read aloud at times, but the cheeky illustrations and the unexpected “treasure” are fun and original.  Sammy is a very likeable protagonist and I did have a bit of a giggle at some of the twists in his nutty quest.  This should appeal greatly to young swashbucklers looking for a new perspective on what makes a pirate tick.

Brand it with:

Pieces of eight (nuts), X marks the spot, Treasure hunting rodents

Fluffy Strikes Back (Ashley Spires)

Ten Second Synopsis:  fluffy strikes back

Fluffy, sergeant in charge of Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel (P.U.R.S.T.) must come out of retirement to foil an invasion of aliens with spray bottles.  Will Fluffy be able to meet the challenge and rescue the pets in his charge?

Muster up the motivation because:

Despite the utter weirdness of the concept of this graphic novel series, it is actually a guffaw-worthy tale.  This is the second book in the P.U.R.S.T. series and I hadn’t read the first, so I didn’t realise that this was a graphic novel.  This meant I wasn’t prepared for the high level of visual humour contained within this tome.  The concept of the book is a little confusing when read – cats, dogs and other small animals working together in a secret (literally) underground organisation to save the world from aliens (insects) – but makes perfect (and hilarious) sense when absorbed visually.  The humour is actually pretty dry for a graphic novel aimed at kids, but there are plenty of just-plain-funny aspects as well, such as the entrance to the P.U.R.S.T. headquarters being accessed through a litter tray and the alien insects using spray bottles to ward off the cats.  I would definitely recommend this to mini-fleshlings or adult readers looking for a quick, off-beat and strangely compelling graphic novel series that doesn’t take itself – or anything else – too seriously.

Brand it with:

Alien Invasion, Notes from the Underground, Thankless tasks

Yes, you guessed it: I will be submitting Fluffy Strikes Back for both the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge and the Title Fight Reading Challenge.  It fits quite nicely into the first category: something related to fighting in the title.  For more info on the challenge, just click this attractive button!

Title Fight Button 2016

 

Also, you can check out my progress for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge, hosted by Escape with Dollycas, here.

alphabet soup challenge 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

A Japanese Double-Dip Review…and an Fi50 Reminder!

3

Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

Before we get started on a double dip from the far East, allow me to inform you that our first Fiction in 50 writing challenge for 2016 kicks off on Monday, the 25th of January.  Our prompt for this month is…

dredging up the past

If you’d like to join in, simply create a piece of poetry or prose in fewer than 51 words and then post the link to your work in the comments of the Fiction in 50 post on Monday.  For more detailed information on the challenge and future prompts, click here.

Now onto our…

imageWell, I promised earlier in the month that I would be bringing you more books featuring Japan and today I deliver on that promise.  I have one middle grade classic revamped for a new generation and one adult contemporary fiction that is perfect for lovers of the quirky road-trip subgenre.    I received both of these from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s start with the one I liked most, which was the middle grade classic revamp: The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui, first published in 1967 and translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

On the first floor of the big house of the Moriyama family, is a small library. There, on the shelves next to the old books, live the Little People, a tiny family who were once brought from England to Japan by a beloved nanny. Since then, each generation of Moriyama-family children has inherited the responsibility of filling the blue glass with milk to feed the Little People and it’s now Yuri’s turn. 


The little girl dutifully fulfils her task but the world around the Moriyama family is changing. Japan is caught in the whirl of what will soon become World War II, turning her beloved older brother into a fanatic nationalist and dividing the family for ever. Sheltered in the garden and the house, Yuri is able to keep the Little People safe, and they do their best to comfort Yuri in return, until one day owing to food restrictions milk is in shorter supply…

blue glassDip into it for…

…a bewitching and moving account of one family’s – and in particular, one young girl’s – attempt to care for others in a desperate situation.  I really loved discovering this story for the first time and I think other adult readers will enjoy it too, never mind the younger ones!  The text reads like a classic children’s story and, being historical fiction, the tale doesn’t have the action-packed pace that one might have come to expect from contemporary middle grade reads, but the story is a deeply engaging take on the theme of the Borrowers, with much to say to a new generation of children.  Yuri is a wonderfully relatable character and readers will be hoping for the best along with her as times get tougher, as well as cheering for her and the Little People as they develop some ingenious methods to overcome hardship.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for fast-paced action and obvious magical themes.  This is a far more subtle offering, combining the hardship of war with the growth and changes of two families.

Overall Dip Factor

The Secret of the Blue Glass is an absolute winner, in my opinion, either as a read-alone for independent youngsters who aren’t afraid to take on some historical content, or as a pre-bedtime read-aloud serial for parents and their mini-fleshlings.  It was wonderfully refreshing to read a story that examined the goings-on of the second World War from a Japanese perspective, touching on patriotism, dissent and political propaganda  in wartime in a way that is accessible to young readers.  This is definitely worth getting your hands on, if you haven’t come across it before.

And now for the adult contemporary fiction, Yuki Chan in Bronte Country by Mick Jackson.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“They both stop and stare for a moment. Yuki feels she’s spent about half her adult life thinking about snow, but when it starts, even now, it always arresting, bewildering. Each snowflake skating along some invisible plane. Always circuitous, as if looking for the best place to land . . .”

Yukiko tragically lost her mother ten years ago. After visiting her sister in London, she goes on the run, and heads for Haworth, West Yorkshire, the last place her mother visited before her death. Against a cold, winter, Yorkshire landscape, Yuki has to tackle the mystery of her mother’s death, her burgeoning friendship with a local girl, the allure of the Brontës and her own sister’s wrath. Both a pilgrimage and an investigation into family secrets, Yuki’s journey is the one she always knew she’d have to make, and one of the most charming and haunting in recent fiction.

yuki chanDip into it for…

…a chick-lit, road trip, finding one’s self novel with a difference.  “Charming and haunting” certainly sums up the atmosphere of this book, written in a strangely compelling present tense perspective.  Yuki is a likeable, if somewhat neurotic, heroine on a quest to find some peace with her mother’s untimely death in England, ten year’s previously and seems to collect experience that are by turns touching and awkward.  Readers of contemporary who are looking for a main character who is well-developed, but certainly not your average, should take to Yuki like a duck to water.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for a no-brainer holiday read.  I felt like this one had me working quite hard –  whether from the unusual use of present tense, the oddity of Yuki herself of the injections of bizarre dry humour, or a combination of the above – and I suspect that this will take an active, on-form reader to appreciate it.

Overall Dip Factor

If you’d like a change of pace from whatever it is you’ve been reading lately, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that Yuki Chan in Bronte Country will scratch that itch.  It’s a strange mash-up of ye olde world charm with an idiosyncratic main character and a very mysterious back story that will engage readers who are looking for something out of the ordinary and don’t mind leaving a book scratching their heads a little and wondering, “What on earth was that?”

alphabet soup challenge 2016

With such a handy “Y”-based title, I just have to submit Yuki Chan in Bronte Country for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge.  You can check out my progress in this challenge (and maybe suggest some books for the trickier letters!) here.

Until next time,
Bruce

Middle Grade Fantasy Spotlight and Giveaway: The Night Parade…

15

NightParade-SMGraphicToday I am excited to present to you a new release middle grade fantasy tale from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky that delves into the complex and densely populated world of Japanese folklore and mythology.  The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary features all the struggles one would expect of a young lass having to spend a potentially boring holiday in the countryside, away from her friends and the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, combined with some delightfully unpredictable forays into the spirit world around the shrine in her grandmother’s village.  I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley, and you could be lucky enough to receive a copy too, provided you read on and enter the giveaway!

But let’s get on with it.  Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

In the shadow of the forest, the Night Parade marches on…

The last thing Saki Yamamoto wants to do for her summer vacation is trade in exciting Tokyo for the antiquated rituals and bad cell reception of her grandmother’s remote mountain village. Preparing for the Obon ceremony is boring. Then the local kids take an interest in Saki, and she sees an opportunity for some fun, even if it means disrespecting her family’s ancestral shrine on a malicious dare.

But as Saki rings the sacred bell, the darkness shifts. A death curse has been invoked…and Saki has three nights to undo it. With the help of three spirit guides and some unexpected friends, Saki must prove her worth- or say goodbye to the world of the living forever.

Night Parade cover

The Night Parade

By Kathryn Tanquary

January 1, 2016; Hardcover ISBN 9781492623244

 Publishers: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

 Now if you haven’t already been sucked in by that eye-poppingly gorgeous cover, allow me to point out some of the aspects of this book I really enjoyed.  Regular readers of this blog will know that we quite enjoy a good foray into books that have any kind of link to Japan, being that it is one of the few places that Mad Martha has had the pleasure of visiting.  (We’ve even got two more Japan-y books coming up at the end of January!) Clearly then, The Night Parade was a book that certainly caught my attention and I loved the wide variety of yokai (Japanese spirits) that made an appearance in Saki’s adventures.  Having recently enjoyed the series of guest posts over at Part-Time Monster featuring various Japanese creepies, including the Tsukumogami – or spirits of old, disused, forgotten inanimate household items, including umbrellas, sandals and lanterns – I was beyond excited to see these bizarre and quirky spirits get a whole section of the story for their own towards the end of the book.

The growing relationship between Saki and her grandmother was also a highlight.  Throughout the story, Saki begins to realise that the problems of a reasonably spoilt teenager are not necessarily the worst difficulties that one could be burdened with, and her developing recognition of the needs of others was neatly executed, without any corny preaching to the target audience.

The story is quite episodic, with Saki exploring a different part of the spirit world over the three nights that she is given to reverse her curse.  These “episodes” are all different in tone, with the first having the creepiest atmosphere, the second cramming in the most action and the third devoted to solving the problems of broken relationships.  Even the most jaded reader of middle grade fantasy could not fault the sheer diversity of fantastic and mythological characters brought to bear on Saki’s quest, and those who are looking for a change of scenery from the usual middle grade fare will appreciate the world-building – and the potential for further research into the plethora of Japanese folk spirits – found here.

The only thing that slowed the pace for me during reading was the inclusion of some fairly typical “teen angst” type episodes in which Saki grapples with the pressures of trying to fit in with the cool kids both at home in Tokyo and in her grandmother’s village.  While these sections are important in terms of Saki’s overall growth throughout the novel, they felt like the same old grist for the middle grade mill that regular readers of books for this age group will have seen ad infinitum.  With such a little-used and in-depth fantasy world playing out in the rest of the story, I was a bit disappointed that the non-fantasy part of the plot trotted out such a well-worn storyline.

Overall though, this is a breath of fresh air in the middle grade market and I hope some other authors jump on the bandwagon and treat us to some more adventures featuring the world of Japanese mythology.  For now though, you’ll have to be satisfied getting stuck in to The Night Parade, in all its quirky, creepy, expansive glory!

But don’t take my word for it.  Read some for yourself!

Excerpt from The Night Parade:

In the dead of night, she woke to three cold fingers on her neck.

Saki blinked in the darkness. The sliding door was open to the forest. The fingers pressed against her jugular, and bright, thundering panic surged through her body.

The fingers curled down toward her throat.

She tried to open her mouth to scream, but her jaw was locked shut. Her hands groped for her phone under the futon. Before she reached it, she touched her grandfather’s worn-­out charm. The three fingers retracted, leaving her skin cold and bloodless.

“Oh good, you’re awake.” She heard her brother’s voice.

Saki flipped around. Lying on her back, she stared up into a pair of eyes.

It was not her brother.

It knelt next to her on the tatami floor, knees brushing the edge of her pillow. Her brother’s futon was empty, and the blankets were flung around the room. It may have been Jun’s body kneeling there, but whatever stared back at her was not her brother.

The clouds shifted, and light fell through the open door, burning moon-­blue on everything it touched. Her not-­brother’s eyes reflected the light like a will-­o’-­the-­wisp.

“I thought you might sleep through it.” The creature smiled. Her brother’s teeth seemed sharper than usual.

Saki touched her hand to her jaw. It unlocked. Her voice was little more than a whisper. “Sleep through what?”

It leaned over. She stared into its will-­o’-­the-­wisp’s eyes.

“The Night Parade, of course.”

With a single movement, it was standing by the crack in the door. The forest stretched on into the night.

“Get up, get up! We’re late already.”

Saki scrambled to her knees. She pulled a blanket around her shoulders and clutched her phone to her chest.

“W-­what have you done to my brother?”

It rolled her brother’s eyes around the room and licked his teeth. “Impressive, isn’t it?” It opened its arms and looked down at the body it had taken. “Of course, beautiful maidens are traditional, but we must work with what we have, no?”

Saki eyed the backpack in the corner. It was heavy enough to swing in a pinch. “If you touch me, I’ll scream.”

The creature with her brother’s body became very serious. “Oh no, that won’t do any good. They won’t hear you anyway. This is your burden, little one.” It barked out laughter, eyes wide open, reflecting the moon.

“This is crazy. Jun, if you’re playing a joke, it isn’t funny. I’m telling—­”

“Why do you refuse to believe what you observe to be true?” it asked. “I don’t know what sort of game you’re playing at, girl. You invited me here.”

Saki blinked. “What?”

It dropped on her brother’s knee beside her. “Don’t you remember? On hallowed ground, you put your hands to the summoning table. You called out our names. You rang the bell. So we came to you, as we must. Well, I came to you.”

“You’re Kokkuri-­san?”

“No and yes. I am the first of three. The others will be along later.”

“Others?”

“Oh yes. I’m always the first, whether I like it or not. The third you will like very much. Everyone likes him. But the second…” It covered her brother’s mouth as a malevolent glee twinkled in its eyes. “Oh my. I daresay you will not like him at all. Very…scary.” It curled and uncurled her brother’s fingers.

“No,” Saki said. “No. No, no, no, no.” She pulled the blanket over her head and rolled into a ball on the floor. “This is crazy. This is insane. This is not happening. I am asleep and having a dream. When I wake up, it will be over.”

The creature sighed. “Very well. If that is your final decision…”

Saki waited underneath the blanket. The wind whistled through the cracks of the old house, but after more than five minutes, she heard no sounds of the stranger anywhere. Bit by bit, she peeled back the blanket and peeked over the top.

Her brother slept soundly on a mess of tousled blankets. His face squished against his pillow as he drooled a bit down the side. His eyes were closed and didn’t shine at all in the moonlight. Saki wrapped her blanket around her shoulders as she rose to shut the open door.

On the wooden walkway in full moonlight sat a fox with four tails.

Praise for The Night Parade:

“Wonder and imagination abound in Tanquary’s debut, a fantasy set in a contemporary Japanese mountain village; filled with respect and admiration for cultural tradition, it evokes both Grimm’s fairy tales and Miyazaki’s films…Vivid details and realistic situations ensure accessibility, and subtle teaching moments are wrapped in wide-eyed enchantment.” –Publishers Weekly STARRED Review

An entertaining mix of Japanese folklore and teen angst” –School Library Journal

“Highly imaginative, beautifully written and what a wonderful book that talks about becoming true to oneself. While reading this all I could picture was a Miyazaki film in my head, and it was beautiful!”–Teresa Steele, Old Firehouse Books (Fort Collins, CO)

Goodreads Link:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25821928-the-night-parade?from_search=true&search_version=service

Buy Links:

Amazon- http://ow.ly/SA2z1

Apple- http://ow.ly/SA6rO

Barnes&Noble- http://ow.ly/SA2Tv

BooksAMillion- http://ow.ly/SA3qk

!ndigo- http://ow.ly/SA45o

IndieBound- http://ow.ly/SA4tE

 

About the Author:Night parade author shot

Kathryn Tanquary is a graduate of Knox College with a B.A. in Creative Writing. She currently resides in Japan as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language.

Social Networking Links:

http://kathryntanquary.com/

@KathrynTanquary

Now, onto the giveaway!  Unfortunately for us Southern Hemispherites, this one is only open to residents of the USA and Canada (booo!).  If you happen to live in one of those locales (lucky you!) you can enter by clicking on the Rafflecopter link below:.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Until next time,

Bruce
//widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Unmissable Sequel Alert (and Giveaway!): Rin Chupeco’s The Suffering…

1

Sound the alarm! I have a sequel today that you really shouldn’t miss, particularly if you’ve read the first book in the series and even more especially if you haven’t! Today’s book, The Suffering by Rin Chupeco is the follow-up to her 2014 debut The Girl From the Well, which I described (rather enthusiastically) at the time as “a hands-down, five-star, should’ve-got-it-in-print read”. The Suffering is a satisfyingly terrifying instalment and as I am now a confirmed, card-carrying fan of Ms Chupeco’s work, I have jumped in on the blog tour giveaway for the book, allowing YOU the chance to win a copy of The Suffering. Thank me later!

But let’s get on with it. Here’s the blurb:

Breathtaking and haunting, Rin Chupeco’s second novel is a chilling companion to her debut, The Girl from the Well.

The darkness will find you.

Seventeen-year-old Tark knows what it is to be powerless. But Okiku changed that. A restless spirit who ended life as a victim and started death as an avenger, she’s groomed Tark to destroy the wicked. But when darkness pulls them deep into Aokigahara, known as Japan’s suicide forest, Okiku’s justice becomes blurred, and Tark is the one who will pay the price…

the suffering

The most interesting thing about this sequel from my point of view is that it has a completely different feel to the first book, but retains that sense of mind-numbing IT’S BEHIND YOU! terror with which the first book was replete. While The Girl from the Well was stomach-churningly intense from the very first pages, The Suffering is more of a slow burn, with the early chapters seeing Tark living a relatively normal teenage life, albeit with an invisible dead girl for company.

The first part of The Suffering felt suspiciously like your standard YA with a bit of paranormal chucked in, but once Tark and Callie arrive in Japan, things quickly take a shuddersome turn. Aokigahara, Japan’s famed “suicide forest” seems to be having a bit of a day in the dappled sun in fiction at the moment – I’ve already reviewed another fiction book featuring it as the setting this year, and have noted a few others about – but Chupeco has done something clever here by twinning the acknowledged fear of the forest with a hitherto undiscovered village of the damned, you might say, within the forest’s clutches.

I won’t say too much about it here, because it would be a bit spoilerific, but by the time Tark and Okiku discover the village of Aitou, that familiar sense of ghoulish eeriness will have settled in the base of your brain, preparing you nicely to jump at the slightest noise or shadow. (Is that a bony finger stroking the back of your neck?). This book focuses on a centuries old curse that affected the young people of the village and the pace during most of this part is break-neck (literally, for some characters) as Tark and Okiku try to stay alive (well, Tark does, anyway) in a ghost-town that clearly wishes them otherwise.

The final chapters of the book are quite touching and unexpected and I gained a renewed respect for Chupeco’s ability to cap off a horror tale by refocusing on the important relationships in the book.

Take it from me, if you haven’t read Chupeco’s work yet and if you like horror even a tiny bit, then you really should try these out. You will be surprised at the quality of the storytelling that can come out of what could easily be branded just another YA horror tale.

That’s all from me, but keep reading for an excerpt from The Suffering and your chance to win! Many thanks to Sourcebooks for sponsoring the giveaway and for providing a copy of the book for review!

The Suffering

By Rin Chupeco

September 1, 2015; Hardcover ISBN 9781492629832; Trade Paper ISBN 9781492629849

Book Info:

Title: The Suffering

Author: Rin Chupeco

Release Date: September 1, 2015

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Rafflecopter Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

//widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Excerpt from The Suffering:

It’s still early morning when our group is given clearance to enter. Aokigahara is a deceptive forest. It has all the hallmarks of a popular tourist destination: narrow but well-­maintained hiking trails with a surprising amount of litter, not to mention strips of tape and ribbon wrapped around tree trunks. The leader explains that hikers use them as markers to maintain their bearings. Later on, one of the other volunteers whispers to us that some of the tapes were left by those who came here to kill themselves, in case they decided to change their minds. The revelation horrifies Callie.

A few miles into our hike, anything resembling civilization disappears. Roots crawl across the hard forest floor, and it’s easy to trip if you’re not constantly looking down. We’re outside, but the trees make it feel claustrophobic. They reach hungrily toward the sun, fighting each other for drops of light, and this selfishness grows with the darkness as we move deeper into the woods.

It’s quiet. The silence is broken by the scuffling of feet or snapping of dry twigs as we walk. Every so often, volunteers call back and forth to each other, and rescue dogs exploring the same vicinity that we are will bark. But there are no bird calls, no sounds of scampering squirrels. We’re told that there is very little wildlife in Jukai. Nothing seems to flourish here but trees.

This deep into the woods, any roads and cleared paths are gone. At times, we’re forced to climb to a higher ledge or slide down steep slopes to proceed, and there’s always some root or rock hiding to twist an ankle.

And yet—­the forest is beautiful. I like myself too much to seriously think about suicide, even during my old bouts of depression, but I can understand why people would choose to die here. There is something noble and enduring and magnificent about the forest.

That sense of wonder disappears though, the instant I see them. There are spirits here. And the ghosts mar the peacefulness for me. They hang from branches and loiter at the base of tree trunks. Their eyes are open and their skin is gray, and they watch me as I pass. I don’t know what kind of people they were in life, but they seem faded and insignificant in death.

Okiku watches them but takes no action. These are not the people she hunts. They don’t attack us because they’re not that kind of ghosts. Most of them, I intuit, aren’t violent. The only lives they had ever been capable of taking were their own.

I’m not afraid, despite their bloated faces, contorted from the ropes they use to hang themselves or the overdose of sleeping pills they’ve taken. If anything, I feel lingering sadness. I can sympathize with their helpless anguish. These people took their own lives, hoping to find some meaning in death when they couldn’t find it in life. But there’s nothing here but regret and longing.

And there’s that tickle again, so light it is nearly imperceptible. Something in this forest attracts these deaths. It lures its unhappy victims with its strange siren’s call and then, having taken what it needs, leaves their spirits to rot. A Venus flytrap for human souls.

Something is wrong here, and suddenly, the forest no longer looks as enticing or majestic as when we arrived.

 

Praise for the Suffering:

 

“Rin Chupeco’s The Suffering is a horror lover’s dream: murders, possessed dolls, and desiccated corpses. I cringed. I grimaced. You won’t soon forget this exorcist and his vengeful water ghost.”

–Kendare Blake, author of Anna Dressed in Blood

 

“Chupeco deftly combines ancient mysticism with contemporary dilemmas that teens face, immersing readers in horrors both supernatural and manmade. The Suffering is a chilling swim through the murky waters of morality.”

–Carly Anne West, author of The Bargaining and The Murmuring

Summary:

 

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24789796-the-suffering?from_search=true&search_version=service_impr

Buy Links:

Amazon- http://ow.ly/PrKxL

Barnes&Noble- http://ow.ly/PrKLh

Books A Million- http://ow.ly/PrL7j

iBooks- http://ow.ly/PrLCI

!ndigo- http://ow.ly/PrLOZ

Indiebound- http://ow.ly/PrLXu

 

About the Author:

Despite uncanny resemblances to Japanese revenants, Rin Chupeco has always maintained her sense of humor. Raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. She’s been a technical writer and travel blogger, but now makes things up for a living. Connect with Rin at www.rinchupeco.com.

Social Networking Links:

Website: http://www.rinchupeco.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RinChupeco

 

 

New in Paperback from this Author: The Girl From The Well

Praise for The Girl From The Well:

“[A] Stephen King-like horror story.” -Kirkus Reviews

 

“Told in a marvelously disjointed fashion.”  -Publishers Weekly STARRED Review

 

“This gorgeously written story reads like poetry.” -Brazos Bookstore

 

“Darkly mesmerizing.” -The Boston Globe

 

“A superior creep factor that is pervasive in every lyrical word.” -Booklis

Summary:

The Ring  meets The Exorcist in this haunting and lyrical reimagining of the Japanese fable.

Okiku has wandered the world for hundreds of years, setting free the spirits of murdered children. Wherever there’s a monster hurting a child, her spirit is there to deliver punishment. Such is her existence, until the day she discovers a troubled American teenager named Tark and the dangerous demon that writhes beneath his skin, trapped by a series of intricate tattoos. Tark needs to be freed, but there is one problem—if the demon dies, so does its host.

With the vigilante spirit Okiku as his guide, Tark is drawn deep into a dark world of sinister doll rituals and Shinto exorcisms that will take him far from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Japan. Can Okiku protect him from the demon within or will her presence bring more harm? The answer lies in the depths of a long-forgotten well

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25263927-the-girl-from-the-well

Buy Links:

Amazon- http://ow.ly/PrQwE

Barnes&Noble- http://ow.ly/PrQFa

Books A Million- http://ow.ly/PrQQU

iBooks- http://ow.ly/PrR6c

!ndigo- http://ow.ly/PrRlE

Indiebound- http://ow.ly/PrQp2

Until next time,

Bruce