Night Shift: After Dark in a Department Store…

1

night shift ya

We received YA novel Night Shift by B. R. Meyers from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At Willard’s department store, none of the night security guards survive for long, and eighteen-year-old Daniel Gale is about to discover why.

Tired of living out of his backpack, he ignores the clerk’s gossip about the old building being haunted and accepts the latest vacated position of night guard. On his first shift Daniel narrowly escapes a fatal fall down an elevator shaft and is rescued by Mary—a bossy and intriguing girl far too beautiful for after hours inventory.

Anticipating every night shift as a chance to be with her, Daniel thinks his traveling days are over hoping that Manhattan is the place to call home. But as his life becomes more entwined with Willard’s, Daniel senses unnatural changes and bizarre coincidences both with Mary and the store itself. Soon he begins to suspect Willard’s is hiding something more sinister than gossip about ghosts—something that could make him the next casualty of the NIGHT SHIFT.

I was really in the mood for some creepy, atmospheric horror – or at least paranormal – when I requested Night Shift and while there are some aspects of the story that I praise for being original and unexpected, this wasn’t atmospheric or paranormal in the slightest.  Daniel is a solid protagonist around which to build a narrative – he has a fascinating past, he seems like a reliable narrator and generally I wanted him to succeed against whatever foes were lurking in the dark of Willard’s.  In the interests of an exciting story, I also wanted him to have the absolute willies scared out of him at least once…and preferably multiple times…during the story so that I could live vicariously through him.

This isn’t that kind of book.  It’s not a ghost story in the typical sense of the word (or even at all) and while it does have a fantastic twist that I didn’t see coming – but admittedly, probably should have, if I’d used my puzzling-things-out brain (more about this later)- there is far too much in-between filler that sucks the suspense out of the story quicker than a recently serviced Dyson cyclonic.  I felt like this book was at least a third longer than it needed to be and this is chiefly due to whacking great chunks of dialogue that doesn’t progress the story, but exists, it seems, to develop character relationships that I felt were already quite solid.

The stringing out of the mystery went for so long that I very nearly put the book down before the twist had even happened.  As I stumbled across the twist in the mystery, I wsa surprised enough to emit a little “Oh!” and quickly flick on in the hopes that the suspense and excitement would ramp up.  Unfortunately, the author took the route of stretching things out to the extent that by the end I didn’t really care about the whys of the plot and just wanted it all to be over.

Admittedly, there is a full and developed story toward the end of the book that links Daniel’s past to his present situation and provides some feel-good moments and action scenes, but by then it was too late to salvage my interest.  There are plenty of interesting and original things going on in Night Shift but because the first part of the book is so focused on ghosts, I had certain expectations of what the story was going to be about.  The twist provided a momentary respite from those dashed expectations, and the thought that maybe there was going to be a more original take on the ghost gossip, but I just couldn’t seem to get past my pre-conceived ideas of what the book was going to be in order to fully enjoy what it is.  Night Shift turned out to be more focused on relationship building and romance than the paranormal/magical realism elements, and as regular readers of this blog know, I’m a sucker for the latter.

If you are looking for a story that is high on romance and budding relationships featuring an unexpected couple, you will probably find something to enjoy in Night Shift.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

A Middle Grade Double-Dip Review: Magical Realism vs Legendary Monsters

1

image

Sit back, relax, grab your favourite two opposing snacks and get ready to dip into some intriguing upper middle grade reads.  Before we get started, I’m just going to let you know that all of today’s books are going to contribute toward my Colour Coded Reading Challenge for 2017.  You can see my progress toward that challenge here.

I should also point out that I received all today’s books from HarperCollins Australia for review – thanks!

First up I have the companion novel to Time Travelling With A Hamster by Ross Welford, which I reviewed last week: What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible.  Also by Ross Welford, obviously.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Turning invisible at will: it’s one way of curing your acne. But far more drastic than 13 year-old Ethel Leatherhead intended when she tried a combination of untested medicines and a sunbed.

It’s fun at first, being invisible. And aided by her friend Boydy, she manages to keep her extraordinary ability secret. Or does she…?

When one day the invisibility fails to wear off, Ethel is thrown into a nightmare of lies and deception as she struggles to keep herself safe, to find the remedy that will make her seen again – and solve the mystery of her own birth…

what-not-to-do-if-you-turn-invisible

Dip into it for…

…charming characters, a solid friendship and some shenanigans involving a sunbed and seriously dodgy alternative medicine.  On immediately finishing the book I felt that I didn’t feel this one as much as Time Travelling with a Hamster, but with a bit of distance since the time I finished it, I’ve decided that I’m actually more fond of the main characters of this novel than the previous.  Ethel lives with her grandma and is bullied for having terrible acne.  Elliot is a recent blow-in from London and seems unaware of his status as social pariah.  An unlikely but heartwarming friendship is formed over the course of the book (and I mean that in the least vomit-inducing way possible) and by the end one can really believe the bond between Ethel and Elliot is authentic.  Did I mention that Ethel also suffers from spells of invisibility now and then?  Well, she does, and that’s where most of the humour comes in, but really, this is a story about family past and present and the family you build for yourself.

Don’t dip if…

…you have a pathological aversion to sunbed use.  I, hailing from the country with the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, have a natural and pathological aversion for sunbeds given the fact that they are proven to increase rates of deadly skin cancers, and have rightly been banned here.  It did grate on me that Ethel happily gets into one multiple times throughout the story and I feel there should be some author’s note at the end (or the beginning, or throughout) that plainly points to the dangers of placing your naked skin under intense UV radiation for any period of time for the sake of a bit of a tan.  It will kill you people.

Admittedly, this is not a good enough reason not to read the book though.

Overall Dip Factor

This was a thoroughly enjoyable story that skilfully incorporates elements of magical realism to lift the plot out of the expected boundaries for contemporary middle grade and YA “issues” books.  Yes, Ethel is dealing with some difficult issues about identity, bullying, loyalty and honesty, but the inclusion of the invisibility works both as a humorous side plot, and a metaphor for escaping one’s problems and taking decisive action.  Elliot is a fantastic character who, it seems, can only be himself and this provides a nice foil for Ethel’s desire to become someone different.  All in all this is a strong contemporary story about growing up, with the added bonus of fun and fantasy woven in.

Next up, I have a two for one deal, with the first two books in the Darkmouth series by Shane Hegarty – Darkmouth: The Legends Begin and Darkmouth: Worlds Explode.  These have been out for a while now, but I received them to review as part of a jacket  re-design release.  Here are the blurbs from Goodreads:

Darkmouth: The Legends Begin

A monstrously funny debut from the new star of middle-grade adventure. Ages: 9+

There are towns where the border between our world and the world of monsters – properly called Legends – is thin. One of those towns is Darkmouth.

There, our hero Finn is the son of the last remaining Legend Hunter – which means that one day soon he will be the last remaining Legend Hunter.

Except… he’s a bit rubbish at it. And in a spectacularly unfortunate coincidence, the terrifying leader of the monsters is in the midst of planning an all out attack on earth… in Darkmouth.

Darkmouth: Worlds Explode

The second book in the monstrously funny and action-packed new series: Darkmouth. It’s going to be legendary.

The adventures of the most unfortunate Legend Hunter ever to don fighting armour and pick up a Dessicator continue…

On a list of things Finn never thought he’d wish for, a gateway bursting open in Darkmouth was right up there. But that’s about his only hope for finding his missing father. He’s searched for a map, he’s followed Steve into dead ends, but found nothing. And he’s still got homework to do.

But soon Finn and Emmie must face bizarre Legends, a ravenous world and a face from the past as they go where no Legend Hunter has gone before. Or, at least, where no legend Hunter has gone before and returned with their limbs in the correct order.

darkmouth1-1

Dip into it for…

…a pedestrian series opener that improves by the end of book two.  I found the second book of a much higher quality than the first mostly due to the fact that in the first book Finn, the protagonist, is sulky, his father Hugo is pushy and I could pick the inevitable betrayal from a certain character from the second they stepped on to the scene.  There is something seriously slow about the first book in the series that made me hesitant to pick up the second, but thankfully the second book featured much more of what I was expecting.  There was far more humour, a more interesting setting and problem to solve and the new character, Estravon, was far more interesting than any of the characters in the first book.  The action in the second book seemed more natural – in that there seemed to be obvious reasons as to why conflicts were occurring and the ending was both surprising and fast-paced.

An unexpected bonus in the books is the full page illustrations scattered here and there, as well as various other smaller images placed in between bits of text.  Regular followers of this blog will know that I think pictures make every book better and it was a nice touch to see the artist’s renderings of the Legend characters particularly.

Don’t dip if…darkmouth-2

…you’re expecting, as the blurb promised, that the stories will be “monstrously funny”.  There are a few smile-inducing moments here and there as well as a few dry asides, but unless you find sadsack teenagers and overbearing parents particularly amusing, you aren’t going to be slapping your thighs throughout.

Overall Dip Factor

I wish that I had just completely skipped The Legends Begin and started with Worlds Explode because it is far the better written of the two.  The pacing is more balanced, the reveals are more surprising (and therefore engaging) and generally the story flows a lot better than in the first book, which is marred by Finn’s constant musings about how he will never be as good as his father and woe is him etc, etc.  The second story also allows for more character development, as Emmie, Steve and Finn are thrown into situations that they haven’t prepared for and therefore have to draw on their own wiles to solve problems rather than have Hugo, Finn’s father, step in to solve everything.  I’m still a little hand-shy about the series to tell you the truth, but the ending of Worlds Explode in particular has me interested in what might happen next.  If only Hegarty could have brought the quality of writing at the end of the second book to bear in The Legends Begin, I’d be giving this series an unreserved thumbs up.

I hope your snacks lasted the distance and didn’t pita off toward the end (see what I did there?!)

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

The Unforgettable What’s His Name: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

3

It’s been a number of years since I’ve read a book by Paul Jennings, so the Book Club was more than delighted to receive a copy of The Unforgettable What’s His Name, by Mr Jennings, and illustrated by Craig Smith, from Allen & Unwin for review.  Before I unleash the Club on this quirky and heartwarming tale, here’s the blurb from A&U:

Now you see him, now you don’t – an action-packed adventure about a boy who just wants to blend in, from a bestselling author/illustrator team.

Even before all this happened I had never been like the other kids. I tried not to be seen. If I climbed a tree or hid among the bins, no one could find me. ‘Where’s What’s His Name?’ they’d say.

Then, one weekend, I got what I wanted. First, I blended in with things. But on the second day I changed.

I mean, really changed.

The hilarious story of a boy with an unusual problem, from children’s book legend Paul Jennings. Includes fantastic look-and-find colour illustrations.

 

The Unforgettable What's His Name by Paul Jennings & Craig Smith.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016.  RRP: $14.99

The Unforgettable What’s His Name by Paul Jennings & Craig Smith. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016. RRP: $14.99

And here’s what the Maniacal Book Club have to say on the topic…

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

When the eyes of the world are watching, will you step into the limelight or shrink into the shadows?  This is the dilemma faced by young What’s His Name.  To stand up and be counted, or overlooked, like a single monkey amidst a herd of leaping banana-chewers: only you can make the decision to be seen as you truly are.  We would all do well to take a lesson from young What’s His Name.  Blending in with your surroundings may solve your problem in the short term, but eventually, one must show one’s true colours, or risk remaining forever like a statue over a pond, while the moss slowly grows over one’s head.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

 

There are no dragons in this book.  There are a bunch of crazy monkeys that run all over town though, and a dog with no ears and a motorcycle gang, and even a boy who can transform into lots of cool things.  It sounds like a cool superpower but most of the time it isn’t very convenient for What’s His Name.  One time, one of the monkeys even tries to pee on him! They call that monkey the Big Pee!

I really liked Sandy the dog too.  This book has a lot of funny things in it and I think kids who like wacky adventures and unexpected things will like this book.  It would be fun to have a teacher read this book out in class because I think all the kids would be laughing.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

This poem is inspired by Simon and Garfunkle’s folk hit Feelin’ Groovy.

Hello lampost, whatcha knowing?

It appears you have two ears growing.

And is that a hair or three?

Do, do, do, do, do

You’re transforming!

Bruce

maniacal book club bruce

 

Paul Jennings, it must be said, is a master of magical realism, with a narrative style all his own.  Whether it has been two weeks or twenty years since you last read one of his books, I can guarantee that you’ll fall straight back into his familiar way of storytelling.  The Unforgettable What’s His Name is a book about a boy who wants to fade from sight.  Painfully shy, the boy gets the jitters whenever he thinks people are watching him and this leads to some unique and giggle-worthy problems.  All the expected Jennings features are included here: unexpected and hilarious situations involving our protagonist, things going wrong at exactly the wrong moment, characters who aren’t necessarily what they appear to be on the outside, and at least one reference to pooh.

The book didn’t seem to me as laugh-out-loud funny as some of Jennings classic works, but there are certainly a range of events that will have readers cringing with embarrassment and wriggling with glee as all sorts of silly situations unfold, requiring skin-of-your-teeth escapes and some truly innovative solutions to problems.  The book is illustrated throughout with both black and white line drawings and double-page spread, full colour illustrations, which add to the magical aspects of the book.

Putting aside the craziness of being able to turn into a human chameleon when anxious for a moment, this book is at its heart a story about facing one’s fears and carving out a place to belong.  As in most of Jennings’ work, the bottom line notes that you don’t have to be the same as everyone else in order to fit in somewhere.

I’d definitely recommend this as an insta-buy for classroom libraries or as a treat for fans (new and old) of the quirky, unexpected mind of Paul Jennings.

Until next time,

Bruce and the gang

 

Picture Book Perusal: The Building Boy

1

picture book perusal button

Today’s ethereal picture book is for anyone that has ever wished that they could hang on to the essence of someone they have loved and lost.  The Building Boy by Ross Montgomery and David Litchfield isn’t just aesthetically appealing, but also moving and gently hopeful, without tipping into cliche or cheesiness.  In fact, the protagonist keeps both feet on the ground…well, his creation does, anyway…while being whisked away on an adventure.  We received a copy of The Building Boy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

All at once, it was as if the stars leapt closer.
Grandma grabbed the boy, raising him high above the rooftiles on her head.
She was alive!

The boy’s grandma was a famous architect. Her garden is still full of old building materials. Unwilling to accept she has gone, the boy builds a giant structure from the bricks and girders he finds. And then … Grandma comes to life! The boy is whisked away on an epic adventure across fields, through oceans and atop roofs. But where is Grandma taking him?

Beautiful, thrilling and extremely moving: the extraordinary debut picture book from much-loved author, Ross Montgomery.

The Building Boy by Ross Montgomery and David Litchfield.  Published by Allen & Unwin, October 31st, 2016.  RRP: $24.99

The Building Boy by Ross Montgomery and David Litchfield. Published by Allen & Unwin, October 31st, 2016. RRP: $24.99

I’m not sure if it’s something to do with the soft, moonlit scenery, but The Building Boy certainly cast its gentle and inspiring ambience over this stony reader.  The industrious and colourful endpapers depicting engineering and design drawings give the first hint that this book is about getting things done, but perhaps not in the way you might think.  The first few pages of the story introduce the Boy and his architect granny, while a golden glow running through the illustrations on these pages gives readers a clue about the depth of the relationship between these two characters.  We just loved Grandma’s stylish bobble hat and patchwork skirt, too!

When it becomes apparent that grandmothers don’t last forever, the tone of the book changes into one of slight uncertainty, as the plans that the boy had made with his grandma start to unfold in unexpected ways.  The moonlit vistas perfectly compliment the touch of magical realism that seeps into the Boy’s endeavours and by the end of the book the reader is left with a sense of comfort and a kernel of hope that Grandma’s legacy will live on.

building-boy-page-spread

Clearly, The Building Boy is addressing themes of grief and loss, but the unusual approach to the subject matter makes this the perfect choice for coming at the topic obliquely, focusing on the relationship between the child and his grandmother, rather than the event of her passing. The fact of the grandmother’s death is never explicitly stated, despite it being obvious that it has occurred, which allows for the creative interpretation of how the Boy’s beloved granny continues to inspire him even though she is not physically present. The overall message is a twist on the platitude-ridden “our loved ones are kept alive in our memories”, but the original narrative mechanism thankfully opens the way for the message to be deftly sent without the need to speak the cliche. The lyrical and evocative text also pays tribute to the special relationship between grandparent and grandchild, acknowledging the fact that this inter-generational sharing of activities is often tinged with a special type of magic.

The Building Boy is a celebration of the love and hope shared between generations, of building a legacy and carrying on with one’s dreams even when the inspiration behind them is no longer with us.  I highly recommend this both for its masterful aesthetic and sympathetic, yet imaginative, rendering of a topic that will strike a chord with many children.

For these reasons, we name The Building Boy a Top Book of 2016 pick!

Bruce's Pick

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Alphabet Soup Challenge: Useless Bay

5

alphabet soup challenge 2016

It’s getting to the pointy end of the year when I start to look back over the challenges to which I’ve committed and start to panic that I won’t finish them.  Thanks to a bit of blind luck, I’ve got the perfect entry today for the 2016 Alphabet Soup Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas, for the letter “U”: YA mystery suspense novel Useless Bay by M. J. Beaufrand.  We received our copy from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

On Whidbey Island, the Gray quintuplets are the stuff of legend. Pixie and her brothers have always been bigger and blonder than their neighbors, as if they were birthed from the island itself. Together, they serve as an unofficial search-and-rescue team for the island, saving tourists and locals alike from the forces of wind and sea. But, when a young boy goes missing, the mysteries start to pile up. While searching for him, they find his mother’s dead body instead—and realize that something sinister is in their midst. Edgar-nominated author M. J. Beaufrand has crafted another atmospheric thriller with a touch of magical realism that fans of mystery and true crime will devour.

useless-bay

Although the cover of this edition puts me in mind of a middle grade targeted story, this is definitely one for the young adults and older readers.  The story is a strange combination of murder mystery, magical realism and family drama and at times I felt that the author couldn’t quite decide which genre they wanted to focus on, so chose instead to flick between them and see what happened.

The Gray quintuplets have lived on the island all their lives and are constantly described in almost mythical terms, but when it boils down to it, it appears that they just happen to be above average height with a strong familial connection and a fiercely independent streak.  Pixie, from whose point of view half of the story is told, comes to be responsible, almost by accident, for a bloodhound who turns out to be brilliant at finding lost people; and it seems like there are a lot of lost people to find on the island and a steady stream of work available for Pixie and her dog, unlikely as that may be.  Henry, from whose point of view the other half of the story is told, is the son of a famous, rich man, and the family’s connection with Useless Bay itself -and the mystical Gray quintuplets – is the result of some serendipitous real estate brokerage.

Overall, I did enjoy the mystery and drama of the story but much of the book felt a bit unwieldy, switching between the grim reality of searching for a lost child (presumed dead) and the odd levity of Pixie’s foray into paranormal historical hallucinations.  The overall atmosphere is quite despondent, but this is tempered with scenes of pacey action and the revelation of unexpected secrets.

I can certainly say I haven’t come across such a hybrid of genres and interesting mix of characters and setting for quite some time in a YA novel, so for that reason alone it is worth picking up.  I think this would appeal to those who enjoy a quirky mystery that blends reality with unexpected paranormal twists.

In case you’re wondering how I’m going with the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge, you can check out my progress here.

Until next time,

Bruce

TBR Friday + a Fi50 Reminder…

4

Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

As difficult as it is to believe, it’s time for Fiction in 50 for September – that’s right, September.  I hope, as well as planning your Fi50s, you’ve also got your end-of-year shopping on the go already because there are just under 14 weeks to go until Christmas.

Scared you there, didn’t I?

I also figured that out using a handy little site called Weeks Until, which has a tool for you to figure out the waiting time until any date you like.  Nifty!

But back to Fiction in 50 business.  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

signs and wonders button

See you there!


TBR Friday

I feel like I’m doing well on my Mount TBR Challenge so far.  My aim was to knock over 12 books from my TBR shelf that I phsyically owned before the first of this year and to date, including today’s effort, I have managed to complete all the books from my original list!  TBR challenge list

This is excluding The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I decided not to finish, but including Hester and Harriet, which hadn’t arrived by the time I took this photo.  So hooray for me!  This means I will be able to add in a few extra contenders to make it over the #12 mark by the end of the year.

*crosses claws*

But let’s get on with today’s book, The Riverman by Aaron Starmer.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Alistair Cleary is the kid who everyone trusts. Fiona Loomis isnot the typical girl next door. Alistair hasn’t really thought of her since they were little kids until she shows up at his doorstep with a proposition: she wants him to write her biography. What begins as an odd vanity project gradually turns into a frightening glimpse into the mind of a potentially troubled girl. Fiona says that in her basement, there’s a portal that leads to a magical world where a creature called the Riverman is stealing the souls of children. And Fiona’s soul could be next. If Fiona really believes what she’s saying, Alistair fears she may be crazy. But if it’s true, her life could be at risk. In this novel from Aaron Starmer, it’s up to Alistair to separate fact from fiction, fantasy from reality.

the-riverman

Ten Second Synopsis:

Alistair doesn’t really know Fiona too well; despite the fact that she lives down the street, they stopped hanging out when they were about seven.  When Fiona chooses Alistair to be her biographer and tells him a story that is, frankly, unbelievable, Alistair will have to decide whether to risk believing in the unbelievable, or investigate what might be really going on in Fiona’s life.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

I ordered it from the BD on the 3rd of February, 2015 so it’s been on there since a week or so after that.

Acquired:

Purchased from the BD.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

Sheer laziness.  Plus, it felt like it might be a hefty read.  So again, laziness.

Best Bits:

  • I found this to be an extraordinarily good example of YA magical realism.  Or fantasy.  Both, really.  The story is complex and deftly woven and you are never sure whether Aquavania exists or whether it’s Fiona’s coping mechanism.
  • Even though the book deals with some grown-up issues, making it more appropriate for upper-end YA readers, Alistair is a perfectly authentic twelve-year-old protagonist, showing that combination of bravado, indifference and bewilderment common to kids of this age.
  • There’s a twist regarding the Riverman that was so unexpected as to be inexplicable – but this was okay because (a) it leads nicely into the second book and (b) it reinforced the atmosphere of confusion relating to the whole “is Aquavania real?” question.
  • The narrative style was absolutely engaging and provided a thorough exploration of the main characters, as well as the motivations of various others in the town.  I was super-impressed by how tight the story was and how expertly it had been put together.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • I can’t really think of any parts of the book I personally didn’t enjoy, but looking at it from another perspective, some readers may find the gaps in between the “fantasy” parts of the story too long.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Absolutely.  In fact, in no time at all I will procure the second book in the trilogy, The Whisper, and no doubt leave it on my shelf for a year or so, just for old time’s sake.

Where to now for this tome?

Straight to the permanent shelf.

If this has whetted your appetite at all, I will have another Aaron Starmer title for you next week – new release YA tome Spontaneous, which came to us with a free splatter jacket.  There might also be a giveaway to go with this one, but keep it under your hat!

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

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Devilishly Thought-Provoking Adult Fiction: The Summer that Melted Everything

7

the summer that melted everthing

Today’s book is that most elusive of creatures – literary fiction that is eminently readable and skilfully demonstrates how reality and our perceptions of reality can merge in ways that result in unexpected personal consequences.  The Summer That Melted Everything is Tiffany McDaniel’s debut novel and an impressive little number it is.  We received a copy from Scribe Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heat wave scorched Breathed, Ohio. The year he became friends with the devil.

Sal seems to appear out of nowhere – a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy claiming to be the devil himself answering an invitation. Fielding Bliss, the son of a local prosecutor, brings him home where he’s welcomed into the Bliss family, assuming he’s a runaway from a nearby farm town.

When word spreads that the devil has come to Breathed, not everyone is happy to welcome this self-proclaimed fallen angel. Murmurs follow him and tensions rise, along with the temperatures as an unbearable heat wave rolls into town right along with him. As strange accidents start to occur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe that Sal is exactly who he claims to be. While the Bliss family wrestles with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.

While this is by no means a book that’s going to leave you strolling away whistling once you put it down, there is something to be said for storytelling that explores the baser aspects of human existence without casting any particular person as “the monster”.  McDaniel has produced an extremely well-crafted novel for a first-timer, and if you are prepared to delve into a world in which nobody’s flaws are glossed over, then I would highly recommend you take a look at The Summer That Melted Everything.

The book is narrated by Fielding Bliss and alternates between a particularly memorable summer of 1984 and Fielding’s moribund situation in the present.  The story begins with a style that borders on magical realism, with larger-than-life, quirky characters and the unexpected arrival of a young boy whose other-wordliness seems to seep from his very pores.  As the book goes on, it becomes apparent that all is not as it seems, although the “truth” of the matter does turn out to be at least as strange as the fiction.  Sal, as a thirteen year old boy, isn’t a particularly authentic character, being too wise for words in some instances, yet remains incredibly endearing and vulnerable in spite of his apparently redoubtable exterior.  Fielding is a much more genuine portrayal of a young boy, although his narration as an elderly man is quite harrowing at times.  The story is rounded out with Grand, Fielding’s older brother and golden boy of the town, his agoraphobic mother, criminal lawyer father, diminutive, angry and zealous neighbour (named, interestingly enough, Elohim), and a collection of small-town folk whose secrets and personal shames are variously brought to light throughout the story.

By the end of the novel, most of the “magic” of the story has fallen away and the reader is left with the stark and disturbing aftermath of unimaginable actions driven by a town’s collective imaginings.  As I mentioned earlier, the book won’t leave you with an uplifted spirit and the desire to prance along the street, but neither does it employ gratuitous shock tactics simply to provide an action-packed finale. While the content toward the end is reasonably challenging, it certainly leaves the reader with plenty to ponder over and this pondering is aided by the treacle-slow pace of the writing, which brilliantly reflects the apparent stopping of time that occurs during a prolonged heatwave.

The only problem I had with the book is that although it is set mostly in 1984, the characters and dialogue had me more in mind of the 1950s.  This may have been deliberate on the part of the author, and to be honest, it doesn’t make that much of a difference to the story, but it was an interesting side-effect nonetheless.

We highly recommend The Summer That Melted Everything to readers who are looking for realistic literary fiction with a masterfully constructed fantastical streak.

Until next time,

Bruce