YAhoo! It’s a (Nordic Noir) YA Review: October is the Coldest Month…

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If you like your YA peppy, romantic and with a good dose of teen angst, you are going to be sorely disappointed (and possibly traumatised) by October is the Coldest Month by Christoffer Carlsson, which we received for review from Scribe Publications.  Certainly one of the grittiest novels categorised as YA that I’ve ever read, the book takes the reader into the dark underbelly of a town in remote Sweden.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Vega Gillberg is 16 years old when the police come knocking on the door looking for her older brother, Jakob.

Vega hasn’t heard from him in days, but she has to find him before the police do. Jakob was involved in a terrible crime. What no one knows is that Vega was there, too.

In the rural Swedish community where the Gillbergs live, life is tough, the people are even tougher, and old feuds never die. As Vega sets out to find her brother, she must survive a series of threatening encounters in a deadly landscape. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s dealing with the longing she feels for a boy that she has sworn to forget, and the mixed-up feelings she has for her brother’s best friend.

During a damp, raw week in October, the door to the adult world swings open, and Vega realises that once she has crossed the threshold there is no turning back.

october is the coldest month

Fittingly, given that the setting is a cold, outlying town in Sweden, the atmosphere of this book is bleak from the get-go and held me in an icy sense of fatalism throughout.  Vega is a teen in a predicament.  Her brother Jakob is missing, she knows why (although the reader isn’t privy to this information until partway through the book) and her stark existence seems like it’s about to become considerably more wintry should the police find Jakob before she does.  The narrative style has a distinct sense of detachment throughout, which is typical of noir I suppose, although I don’t read much of it, which actually made it a bit easier for me to keep reading through the bits that made my stomach churn.

The book features sex, violence and general criminal activity, so if any of those things turn you off, I would recommend you place this one back on the shelf and find yourself something more comforting.  Although this is a YA book in that the protagonist is a middle teen, the other characters, bar one – Vega’s love interest – are adults and careworn, to put it mildly, at that.  It very much feels throughout the book that Vega is well and truly out of her depth, trying to protect her brother while the significant adults in her life are involved in everything from black market hustling to murder.

Towards the end, the story feels a bit like a traditional murder mystery in that Vega starts to unravel the truth and various characters admit to playing various parts in the act in which Jakob was caught up.  I quite enjoyed this part of the story because things finally started making sense and the action ramped up in tandem with the pace of the story.

Overall, since this was quite a quick read, I found this quite absorbing and easy to fall into.  Noir is certainly not a genre I read often, given that I don’t necessarily love grittiness for the sake of it, but this was a good example of the genre and not overwhelming, given the shortish length of the story.  I would recommend this if you are a YA reader looking for something completely out there, or if you are a fan of edgy crime novels and need a quick fix.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Case of the Cursed Dodo (The Endangered Files #1): A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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It’s time for another gathering of the Maniacal Book Club and this time we have an offering that will also fit comfortably into category two of the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: books with an odd author.  For you see, this book is penned by a Giant Panda. Who happens to be a detective.  The book also fits quite nicely into category three (books with odd subject matter) as the noir style is not one often seen in books for middle-graders, nor is the fact that the story is written in the format of a chaptered screenplay.  So pretty odd all round, I should think. Allow our discussions about this odd little contender to sway you towards taking a walk on the wild side.

Jake G. Panda is a bit of a loner.  The in-house detective at the Last Resort, a hotel refuge for endangered species, attracts trouble like spilled sugar attracts ants.  When Jake gets a phone call from his Professor friend that is cut suspiciously short, the detective hightails it straight to the last known deserty whereabouts of his friend to get to the bottom of things.  Captured by a smuggling cartel, Jake and an unlikely band of fellow endangered animals escape and return to the Last Resort to sort out the mystery of a lost suitcase and a jade Dodo.  But at least one familiar face from Jake’s past has got there first.  Can Jake keep his wits about him and unravel this age-old mystery or will some double-crossing creatures rain on his parade?

the case of the cursed dodo

maniacal book club guru daveGuru Dave

Ah, the panda. So alone and yet, he pretends to enjoy his lonely existence. So it must be for many who find themselves endangered.  The message then, is to lean on one’s friends, to see one through the tough times.

But at the same time one must beware upon whom one leans – because the smiling face of a friend could simply be a mask behind which a deadly assassin hides.

Or perchance not.

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book.  But there were some cool lizard-type guys and a really cool snake.  That’s close enough I suppose.  There was lots of action and animals being captured and escaping and stealing things and swapping stuff around.  There was lots of mystery which was pretty cool.  And there are some nasty rats.  I would have liked to eat the rats.  Jake G. Panda seems like a cool customer.  Maybe he can take me on his next case.

Mad Marthamaniacal book club martha

Take some advice

from the school of hard knocks,

Should you move to the desert

Take sand-proof jocks.

 

maniacal book club bruceBruce

I was surprised by the originality of the format of this book.  When I heard this was pitched at middle-graders, but had a noir flavour, I wasn’t sure how the author was going to pull it off.  Noir is not my favourite narrative style, and I wondered how the gritty overtones would suit a book for a younger audience.
I needn’t have worried.  The book is written like a screenplay, with most of the noir elements contained in Jake’s introspective voiceover monologues.  These all have a bit of a tongue-in-cheek vibe and there’s plenty of dry humour throughout the book, as well as a few slapstick scenes thrown in for good measure.  Reflecting on it, it reminded me of movies like the Naked Gun, but aimed at kids.

For the most part I enjoyed the twists and turns and the action-adventure scenes throughout the book, but I felt that the inclusion of an old flame of Jake’s around about the middle of the book slowed things down a bit and I’m not sure how that storyline will appeal to young readers.  Other than that though, there are thrills, spills, mystery and mayhem and a whole slew of obscure endangered animals to whet the curious appetite.

This series of books is something really different for this age-group and the illustrated format and the interesting narrative style will no doubt have fans of Jake G. Panda holding their collective breath for the next instalment.

Overall Rating:

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(Noir of any kind is not Mad Martha’s cup of tea)

Oddity Odyssey Challenge Progress Total: 1 of 16 books

Until next time,

Bruce