The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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imageI seem to be on a bit of a minor roll at the moment, with unexpectedly wonderful books popping up here and there, and I am pleased to be able to add another to my (very short) list of “Top Books of 2015”.

Today’s book is as unexpected and wonderful as it is singular and extraordinary, and I was lucky enough to receive a copy from the publisher, Angry Robot, via Netgalley. The tome in question is The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee, being the first in a new series relating The Peculiar Adventures of John Loveheart, Esq. I hasten to warn that this book, with its oddities and profanities, will not be for everyone but if you are hankering after a blindingly original array of characters forced into unruly submission by an author with an obvious mastery of the written word, then there is a good chance that this book will be for you.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

1888.  A little girl called Mirror and her shape-shifting guardian Goliath Honeyflower are washed up on the shores of Victorian England. Something has been wrong with Mirror since the day her grandfather locked her inside a mysterious clock that was painted all over with ladybirds. Mirror does not know what she is, but she knows she is no longer human.

John Loveheart, meanwhile, was not born wicked. But after the sinister death of his parents, he was taken by Mr Fingers, the demon lord of the underworld. Some say he is mad. John would be inclined to agree.

Now Mr Fingers is determined to find the little girl called Mirror, whose flesh he intends to eat, and whose soul is the key to his eternal reign. And John Loveheart has been called by his otherworldly father to help him track Mirror down…

mirror and goliath

 

Here, then, are five things I’ve learned from

The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath

1. Never trust a man in a waistcoat. Particularly one made of whimsically decorated fabric.

2. Never trust anyone who names themselves after an opposable body part. 

3.  Should you ever be invited to take an especially close look at the workings of a coffin-sized clock, it would be prudent to decline. 

4. When being pursued by demons and humans of dubious origin, it is recommended that you seek the services of a large, battle-trained protector with the ability to shape-shift.

5. Socks, while generally considered an unimaginative gift for older male relatives, are also much less likely to see the giver murdered for the immortality-inducing properties of their soul.

 

I’m sure I’ve mentioned more than a few times how highly an original story is valued in my reviewing world. Being that I churn through a stupidly high number of books a year – my Goodreads challenge chart is telling me that I have read 68 books this year so far – it is only reasonable to expect that much of the time there will be a niggling feeling of having read something like the story in which I find myself immersed, at any given time, before. It is a real and almost tangible treat then, to come across a tale about which one can truly say, “This is different!” The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath is one such book and I put its originality down to the obvious and remarkable talent of the author.

The story is all over the place – and I mean this in the exciting and invigorating sense, not in the “Good Lord, this book is all over the place!” sense that is usually uttered with head in hands – as various characters (both main and minor) muscle in on the telling. The setting ranges from a woody cottage to the depths of the Underworld to the deserts of Cairo to a less-than-reputable clock shop. The characters are human and demon and almost, not-quite. There’s violence and one-liners and escapes and unsavoury dinner parties. Over the course of the tale, a number of characters are referred to as mad – “mad as a spoon”, “mad as a hat”, “mad as scissors” – and while a definite atmosphere of mild insanity hangs over the proceedings, at no point did I feel that the author was letting things get out of (her) hand.

Apart from the welcome and inspiring originality of the tale, the shining light has to be the book’s narrative style. Bee manages to be simultaneously lyrical and distinctly unnerving, mixing dry wit with outlandish, almost slapstick violence and a sense of the poetical with deeds unequivocally wicked. While the title refers to Mirror and Goliath, the main character here turns out to be John Loveheart, Esq., who embodies this sense of innately flawed hilarity and carries it to the nth degree.

By the end of this book I was utterly convinced that I want to read more from Ishbelle Bee, whether in this series or elsewhere. It is rare, in my experience, to come across such finesse with the use of language that one feels excited just to be experiencing the words on the page. I therefore have to commend this book into place number four on my “Top Books of 2015” list, which is growing at a slow but steady pace.

Until next time,

Bruce

Help Fund My Robot Army!: An Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Submission…

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Today I’m presenting to you a book that I stumbled across on one of my many “what extra books can I add to my already unattainable to-read list” internet jaunts.  The title, and subsequently, the blurb and format were so beguiling that I felt it should be added to said list immediately.  Then I noticed that the kindle price was less than $5, so I decided, “what the hey, let’s live a little!” and duly added it to my kindle hoard.  I speak of none other than speculative/sci-fi/fantasy/humour anthology Help Fund My Robot Army!!! & Other Improbably Crowdfunding Projects, edited by John Joseph Adams. I intend to submit this to my Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge under the categories of “odd title” (note the three exclamation marks and ampersand), and “odd language element”.  Its inclusion in this second category is due to the fact that this anthology is composed entirely of imaginary crowdfunding pitches, as might be found on Kickstarter.

While I am familiar with the concept of crowdfunding and I’m aware that Kickstarter exists, I have never spent any time perusing that site.  Apparently though, many fleshlings wile away the hours surfing this site for projects they might like to fund, or simply to leave humorous comments on the less likely of such projects.  So if you are one of these fleshlings, this book may well be for you.  Let’s dive in.

From Goodreads:

If you’re a regular backer of Kickstarters, you’ve probably seen some unique crowdfunding projects in your time. But one thing all of those campaigns—boringly!—had in common was: They abided by the physical laws of the universe!

HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! is an anthology of science fiction/fantasy stories told in the form of fictional crowdfunding project pitches, using the components (and restrictions) of the format to tell the story. This includes but is not limited to: Project Goals, Rewards, User Comments, Project Updates, FAQs, and more. The idea is to replicate the feel of reading a crowdfunding pitch, so that even though the projects may be preposterous in the real world, they will feel like authentic crowdfunding projects as much as possible.

So if what you’ve always been looking for in a Kickstarter—and couldn’t find—was a project that allowed you to SUMMON DEMONS, DEFY GRAVITY, WIELD MAGIC, or VIOLATE CAUSALITY, then HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! & Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects may be just the thing you’ve been looking for.

robot army

There are 33 stories in this anthology and the majority of them are written by accomplished (to a greater or lesser degree) authors in the sci-fi/spec fiction realm.  Every single one of them follows the format of a Kickstarter crowdfunding pitch and while some others who have reviewed this collection on Goodreads mentioned that this format quickly got stale for them, I didn’t share that feeling as I was reading.  In fact, I quite enjoyed seeing how so many different authors worked within the same – pretty limiting – restrictions to produce some very engaging stories.

The collection includes tales from the sci-fi, speculative and fantasy genres but there are a few recurring themes in the bunch.  There are a number of pitches dealing with time travel, quite a few robot-related stories, a couple to do with granting wishes and desires. While the repetition in format didn’t put me off any, the repetition of themes did in some cases.  For instance there are two stories that are very similar in that they relate to pitches concerned with raising enough dosh to raise certain ancient deities.  I enjoyed (and chuckled repeatedly) at Help Summon The Most Holy Folded One! by Harry Connolly but was a bit so-so towards Bring About the Halloween Eternal!  by Seanan McGuire, which featured at the close of the collection and had a very similar tone and plot to Connolly’s tale.  Similarly, I was less enthused by each time-travel tale that I encountered and I felt that the selection process for the stories could have been tighter to avoid including tales that were very similar.

There’s a lot of humour going on in these stories (especially in some of the “comment threads”) and I particularly enjoyed Save the Photophobic Hemoglobivores with the Sanguine Reserve by Mur Lafferty, about creating a retreat for endangered vampires, Life Sized Arena Tetris! by David Malki!, whose title is self-explanatory (and a cracker of an idea in my opinion), and of course, the aforementioned Help Summon the Most Holy Folded One!, about the attempted raising of an ancient taco deity.  But not all the pitches are included for comic relief.  There’s the subtly sinister dystopian  A Memorial to the Patriots by Jake Kerr, the touching plea of a mother in crisis, I Want to Be a Lioness by Chuck Wendig, the slightly bizarre medical breakthrough of So Juicy Transforming Strips by Matt Williamson and the bittersweet sting of grief unprocessed in  Jerome 3.0 by Jason Gurley.

Be Careful What You Wish For by Michael J. Sullivan has inspired me to seek out W. W. Jacob’s original story, The Monkey’s Paw (another one for the mountainous TBR pile – at least it’s a short story) and, ironically, Spoilerfree: A Device for 21st Century Entertainment Living by Jeremiah Tolbert has lodged in my brain as one of the most memorable (and devilishly cheeky!) stories in the group.

Overall, I appreciated the fresh format of this short story collection and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a bit of sci-fi and fantasy and is looking for some bite-sized chunks of originality and fun from a whole range of accomplished authors.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Challenge Goal: 5/16

To find out more about the Oddity Odyssey Challenge (and join in!) just click on the pretty image at the start of this post.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

The Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge 2015: Where everything gets a little weird….

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As round about now is the time that everyone seems to be making resolutions, I thought I’d chime in with the Shelf’s reading challenge for this year – The Oddity Odyssey! Excitingly, we already have a number of takers who have committed to veer off from the middle of the road to take a walk on the odd side in their reading this year. Join us, won’t you?

In case you missed the original post about our challenge, here’s the information again, plus a little anecdote about how one strange little book inspired this whole escapade.

Let’s start with the anecdote.  So I was wandering around the local library and I happened upon this cheery little picture book tucked away in a section for confident young readers….

who burped Who Burped? by Ohara Hale

Amused as I was by the belching snail, it took me a moment to notice that this was a board book.  A  board book in a section for big kids.

It took me another moment to notice the little “Picture NF” tag on the cover.  This was a non-fiction book? Well, thought I, that explains why it is with the books for big kids.  This must be an illustrated, informative tome on the scientific specifics of the noble burp.

So I opened it.

And was confronted with this…

who burped page spread

Again, amused as I was by the cheeky illustrations and chuckle-worthy banter of the book’s inhabitants – the snail is making that comment in response to another creature explaining that one might cover one’s mouth during a burp – it took me a further moment to reach the conclusion that this was probably the least informative non-fiction title ever composed.  And shortly thereafter, having read the book, considered the librarians’ choice of shelving and label, and compared these factors to my extensive knowledge of book-reading, I came to the following conclusion:

“Well, that’s odd”.

And thus the Oddity Odyssey was born!

Cool story, eh?

Now unfortunately, as I read this one before the official start of the challenge, it can’t count towards my total, but I have high hopes that Ohara Hale will come through with the goods for me in one way or another.  I’ve already got my eye on the latest release by this author. Here it is:

pizza doing stuff

That’s got to be a winner, don’t you think?

Now that I’ve whetted your appetite, here are the challenge particulars again.  We’d love you to join in!

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*Challenge participants will select a challenge level and attempt to read a particular number of books within the oddity categories listed below.

* Challenge participants can decide how they will attack the challenge. Participants can try and read books across all categories, or they can pick just one (or a small selection) of categories to focus on. It’s up to you how you want to indulge the oddity.

*Challenge books can include any genre and any age-range. So any books, from picture book to adult fiction are perfectly fine. Non-fiction is fine also. Audio books? No worries!

*Creative interpretation of the categories is encouraged. This challenge is all about finding books that are odd FOR YOU!

*To join this challenge, simply comment with “I’m in!” and what level you would like to aim for. Feel free to create a post on your blog, twitter, Facebook or wherever telling everyone what level you’ve chosen and include link back to this page so others can join in!

* Challenge participants can add the challenge button to their blogs if they wish. The code is available in the sidebar of this blog.

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1. Books with an odd TITLE:

Perhaps the book has the word “odd” (or “strange”, “weird” “unusual” or any other odd synonym) in the title. Perhaps the title is really unexpected (“Christmas Trees for Pleasure and Profit” for example). Perhaps the title is in a foreign language. Maybe the title has an odd number in it. However you want to interpret it, select a book with some sort of titular oddity.

2. Books with an odd AUTHOR:

Maybe the author is writing under a pen name. Maybe the author used to be a tour guide in the Amazon before taking up writing. Maybe the author is writing out of their genre or age-range for the book you’ve chosen. Maybe the author has the word “odd” (or strange or weird or any other odd synonym) in their name. This category is ripe with opportunity for those prepared to do a little research.

3. Books with an odd SUBJECT MATTER:

This could be as simple as reading some books in a genre you don’t normally read, or haven’t tried before. Or you could really branch out and use this category to explore some brave new literary worlds. This category could include new twists on familiar themes such as retellings, or books based on genre mash-ups.

4. Books with an odd LANGUAGE ELEMENT:

Here we’re talking about anything to do with language. Books that are written in languages that are not your own (including translations), books written in verse or stream of consciousness, wordless books, books heavy on wordplay…basically anything language-related that sets the book apart from the ordinary herd.

5. Books with an odd SETTING:

Again, this can be as broad as you like. It may be an odd setting in that it’s a real setting you’ve never visited, or it could be a setting that’s totally imaginary. Maybe it’s our world but not as we know it. Perhaps it’s set in a time not our own. However you choose to interpret it, this is all about time and space that’s slightly left of centre.

6. Books with an odd CHARACTER:

Guinea pigs that fly stunt planes. Librarians with werewolf-ism. Bearded ladies. Conservative politicians. This category probably provides the most fertile ground for successfully embracing oddity.

Remember, participants are free to work with books across categories, or to restrict themselves to one or a few categories. It’s up to you how deeply or broadly you wish to immerse yourself in the odd.

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1 – 3 Books : Occasionally Offbeat

4 – 6 Books: Common-or-Garden Weirdie

7 – 10 Books: Strikingly Strange

11 – 15 Books: Freakishly Fervent

16+ Books: Audaciously Odd

Being the creator of the challenge, I have naturally chosen to go for the Audaciously Odd level. That’s a little more than one book per month.
Totally do-able. Totally.
Join in! Or tell your oddest friend and get them to join in!
Until next time,
Bruce

 

 

A Small Fry Safari Wrap Up and….The Shelf’s NEW Reading Challenge for 2015!

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As we wrap up the year, it’s once again a time of reflection.  On triumphs and troughs. On goals achieved and on those that got away from us. In this vein, I have to acknowledge those who challenged themselves to read in unexpected ways this year by participating in the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge.

small fry

It was fun, it was feisty and it gave each of us a little thrill when we came across a book that we could manhandle into one of the categories.  All in all, a very worthwhile endeavour.  If you would like to find out more about the challenge (which is still open until December 31st by the way, and therefore still very much achievable!), or see the entries that were hunted and tracked by those on the safari bus, simply click here.

If you were one of the intrepid travellers who managed to finish the challenge, feel free to grab yourself this awesome button for your blog, wall or trophy cabinet.  I will be having mine proudly made into a shelf-sized doona cover.  Feel free also, if you know about photoshop (or the old-fashioned method of literal cutting and pasting) to place an image of your own face over mine. To paste it on your blog, simply copy the code in the box below the image and paste it on your blog.

The Bookshelf Gargoyle
<div align="center"><a href="https://thebookshelfgargoyle.wordpress.com" title="The Bookshelf Gargoyle"><img src="https://thebookshelfgargoyle.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/image5.jpg" alt="The Bookshelf Gargoyle" style="border:none;" /></a></dimageiv>

But enough of Small Fry! Small Fry is soooooo 2014! Today I unveil my new, fresh off the boat, just out of the oven reading challenge for 2015.  It’s called the….wait for it…..

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I’m excited! Aren’t you? Of course you are.  This challenge will be a little bit different from the Small Fry Safari in that it will encompass ALL types of literature, not just Kid Lit.  If you are up for the challenge and want to find out more, click on the impressively attractive image above and all your questions will be answered.  Come on! Join in! It’ll be fun!  I’m also going to include some GIVEAWAYS for participants in the challenge in 2015, so share the news around – the more oddness the merrier!

In case you’re wondering, I’m going to attempt the challenge at the Audaciously Odd level.  Bet you’re intrigued now, aren’t you? Go on then, click the challenge button and find out more!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Festive Frivolity: Bruce’s Christmas Lucky Dip!

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It’s time once again for one of my favourite features – Bruce’s Lucky Dip! If you are unfamiliar with this one, it involves me typing a random word into the search engine of the Book Depository and presenting to you the best and most unexpected results.  Appropriately for the time of year, this lucky dip is focused around Christmas.  So if you are still searching for the perfect present for that hard-to-buy-for character plaguing your Christmas list, sit back and let my festive fossiking provide the solution to all your woes….click on the book covers for more information on each title.

Firstly, for the hardcore crafty crafter:

knits before christmas

For the religious hardcore crafty crafter:

knitivity

Unsurprisingly enough, these two are by the same author.

For the ungrateful relative of a hardcore crafty crafter (religious or otherwise):

ugly christmas sweater

Remember, it’s the thought that counts.

For the person who just needs a little assistance to manage that carefree, Christmas happy-tude:

funny christmas verse

For the party-pooping Christmas sad sack who needs more than a bit of funny festive poetry to get them in the mood:

christmas therapy

Let those elves psychoanalyse the holiday grumps away…

For the entrepreneur with a desire for wealth untold and rapid upward mobility:

trees for pleasure and profit 4th edition

Scoff if you must, but do note that this book is in its fourth edition, so the author must have made at least a little bit out of this harebrained scheme…

For the animal activist, or that annoying child that keeps begging you for a puppy:

christmas turkeys

Imagine the expression of joy on their little faces when you present this book and then lead them into the back yard, accompanied by the sound of festive gobbling…

For those for whom mulled wine is not enough to spice up the holiday:

affair before christmas

Now it doesn’t happen often, but occasionally I come across a book in one of these searches that makes me do this face:

confused smileyThis time I have found hands down the most inexplicable Christmas title ever.  Clearly, I move in sheltered shelfish circles.  This one certainly has a fun and frivolous vibe to it, but it ain’t my idea of traditional festivities.  And it’s certainly not for children.  If you want to see it on Goodreads though, just click here.

……

Bet you weren’t expecting that, were you? In fact, I bet you’re making the face right now.

And that’s my festive lucky dip for 2014 – I hope I’ve helped you with those tricky people on your present list….although if you’re buying that last one for anybody I don’t want to know about it.  You weirdie.

Stay tuned next week for a wrap up of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge, and a BRAND NEW CHALLENGE for 2015.  It’s going to be real bobby-dazzler!

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The Odd MG Edition…

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Welcome wild readers to another Reading Round-Up, where we take a look at the books that I’ve had round the shelf f recently, but can’t quite fit into the usual blog schedule.Today’s round-up features a whole bunch of books with an odd element – odd characters, odd worlds, odd takes on old favourites – and most of these offerings are fit for middle-grade readers and older.  Mounts at the ready? Let’s round ’em up!

Chimera: Book One (Phil Gomm)

imageTwo Sentence Synopsis:

Kyp finds himself lost in a strange world of discarded things when his not-parents commit an act of treachery.  It is up to Kyp to use his wiles and protect his Elsewhere Light as he fights his way past the deadly detritus of human memory and makes his way home.

Muster up the motivation because:

Gomm has created a new and different world from a concept that has endless possibilities.  Like a beautiful hybrid between Labyrinth and Attica (one of the shelf’s favourite ever books, by Garry Kilworth), the story weaves between danger and discovery with something unexpected at every turn.  Filled with incredible descriptions that bring the story to life, the only thing missing here is a slew of pen and ink illustrations to round things out.

Brand it with:

Strange new worlds, now where did I put that, anthropomorphic furniture, treachery and betrayal      

Check out my Goodreads review here!

* I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley *

 

Doctor Who: Lights Out (Holly Black)

doctor who lights outTwo Sentence Synopsis:

An alien with an unfortunate past finds itself next to the Doctor in the queue for the third-best coffee in the universe.  Unfortunately, a number of their fellow queue-ers (queueees?) don’t survive to get a stamp on their loyalty cards.

Muster up the motivation because:

Hey, it’s the new Doctor so it’s as good a chance as any to get to know more about him outside of the television representation. Also, this is Holly Black’s first ever contribution to the Doctor Who stories and she’s done an alright job here.  As this is part of the eBook Shorts series featuring a different Doctor per story, it’s also an excellent opportunity to dip a toe into the storybook world of the Doctor in a super-quick, achievable in one sitting read.

Brand it with:

Caffeine and Health Risks, mutants scorned, shady scientists, nyctophobia

Read my Goodreads review here!

*I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Lights Out is also going to be my entry in Category 3 of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge for this year – a book with a specific time in the title. Which means I only have one category to go – wahoo!

small fry

And now I bring to you an offering in my Fairy Tale Makeovers Review Series – it’s been a while I know, but to make up for the time you’ve had to wait I now present you with two reimagined tales.

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Moldylocks and the Bear (Bertram Boo)

moldylocksTwo Sentence Synopsis:

Moldylocks loves bears and can’t wait to audition for the main bear role in the town production of Grizzlylocks. When real bears move into town Moldy sees an opportunity to discover how to go full bear and win the part – but only if the machinations of the Stinkpot family don’t see the bears run out of town first.

Muster up the motivation because:

Fairy tales and zombies are a natural pairing really, aren’t they?  This is the second offering in the Plainfield Chronicles, which started with Scar and the Wolf, and is significantly longer with a plot that features the difficulties of interspecies (and inter-life-status) relations, alongside a coming-of-age, becoming your true undead self, feel-good story.  It’s the perfect antidote for those who are well and truly over the saccharine sweet Disney versions of the traditional fairy tale.

Brand it with:

shuffling hordes, conspiracy and blackmail, pushy stage parents, going full bear

Read my Goodreads review here!

* I received a copy of this title from the author in exchange for an honest review *

 

Cinderskella (Amie & Bethanie Borst)

cinderskella  Two Sentence Synopsis:

After her mother’s death, Cindy discovers that she has the power to turn into a skeleton at night. Can Cindy turn this curse into a blessing or is she destined to gross-out potential dates forever?

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a surprisingly complex and original take on a tale that has been reimagined to the nth degree. While the narrative style is certainly pitched to appeal to pre-teen girls, there is a really enjoyable story with plenty of original elements waiting to be discovered by those outside this age-range.  Plus, there are some classically terrible bone-related puns in here that can be tucked into your repertoire for later use on unsuspecting passers-by.

Brand it with:

recently deceased, And-you-thought-you-had-styling-problems, character cameos, the anti-princess

Read my Goodreads review here!

I hope one of these oddities has sparked your interest enough to go out and round it up.  Stay tuned tomorrow when I participate in the Getting to Know You blog hop and giveaway – there’ll be another chance to win some of my favourite books, odd and otherwise.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

Adult Fiction Read-It-If Review: The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix…

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Cheerio lads and lasses! Today I’ve got a very different reading experience to share with you – a sort of fictional/memoir/murder mystery/magical realism mash-up.  It’s The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix by Paul Sussman.  I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!

In this book we are introduced to the reasonably unlikeable Raphael Ignatius Phoenix (he of the initials R.I.P.), as begins a suicide note of truly monumental proportions.  You see, Raphael, at the age of almost-100 years, has decided that he has lived enough of this crazy journey called life, but before he goes, he wishes to regale us with the story of his life.  And quite a life it is too, for Raphael is a murderer, many times over.  He has bumped off irritating people from all walks of life and from all areas of his acquaintance.  And it is by this dubious achievement that he wishes to be remembered.  Alongside the stories of Raphael’s multiple murders is the story of his repeated, yet fleeting, interactions with his best friend (and only love) from childhood, Emily.   So let us join Raphael as he recounts his life’s adventures and attempts to take the gold medal for longest/largest/most elaborate suicide note ever written…provided he doesn’t run out of pens, of course.

final testimony raphaelRead it if:

* you can easily alight upon one or more person of your acquaintance that you could have happily bumped off, for each decade of your life so far

* you believe the penalty for being an irritating git should be death

* you could think of nothing more wickedly delightful than an attempt to turn twins, who are devoted to each other, against one other

* you are a fan of the tall tale

Let me be honest.  I found this book hard going.  The blurb held such promise.  I was intrigued to find out about multiple murders of the title character and was all set to enjoy the light-hearted manner in which they were recounted.  Unfortunately, the title character is a bit of an irritating git himself, so while I did enjoy the light-hearted tone and dry wit of the first few chapters, my interest started to wane after a bit.

Essentially, this book is divided into chapters with one murder (and usually one decade of Raphael’s life) explained in each chapter.  As I mentioned the early chapters – and particularly the recount of the first murder, the unfortunate Mrs Bunshop (if that is her real name) grabbed my attention and had me eagerly flipping pages.  But after repeated chapters of the same sort of format, it started to seem more difficult than it needed to be to wade through Raphael’s memoirs.  The very first line of the novel is this:

“This is going to be the longest suicide note in history.”

Well, he wasn’t lying there, so I suppose I can’t really complain that I hadn’t been warned about what lay ahead…but this book really felt looooooooong.  In between the murders, wherein many of the interesting bits lay, are long soliloquays about the actual writing of the note – the wheres, the hows, the difficulties, the successes.  To be perfectly honest, there’s only so many pages one can read about the anxiety that arises regarding the liklihood of running out of pens.

Despite my whinging, I didn’t completely hate this book.  It was just okay.  The chapter describing Raphael’s murder of the Albino Twins (yes, you read that correctly) had me compelled to find out how it would end.  I can honestly say it was the best chapter featuring Albino Twins and their cuddly toys that I have ever read.  And I mean that in a genuine, complimentary way.  The ending was also, if not a high point, something completely unexpected and had me considering what light it might throw on the preceding events.  (For interest’s sake, I decided that the ending came too far out of left field to really add much to the book.  Pessimistic, I know).

When all is said and done, I just think I was expecting something different from what this book turned out to be.  I suspect that there will be people that really love the book for its original premise and the cheeky nonchalance of Raphael, but it ended up being too much like hard work for me to really say I enjoyed it.

The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix is due for release on May 22nd.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

ARC Haiku Review: Emily and the Strangers (The Battle of the Bands)

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The goodest of evenings to you word-lovers! It’s Mad Martha with you for another haiku review.  Today’s offering is a graphic novel featuring that odd yet loveable teen roguette, Emily Strange in Emily and the Strangers: The Battle of the Bands by Rob Reger, Mariah Huehner and Emily Ivie.  I received a digital edition of this graphic novel (though I wish it had been print!) from Dark Horse Comics via Netgalley – thanks!

Now, having admired Emily from afar for a good long while (on account of us having a similarly strange outlook on life) I eventually took the plunge and read all of the novels in which she features.  This, however, is my first foray into her adventures in graphic novel form, and I gotta tell ya – I’ve been missing out.

In Emily and the Strangers (Volume One), the lady of the strange enters a song contest to win the guitar of the late, great Professor Kraken.  In order to claim full possession of the prize though, Emily must form a band and compete in a Battle of the Bands contest.  Can the ultimate mistress of going it alone manage to  …*shudder*…play well with others…and win the object of her heart’s desire? Or will her cats wind themselves around her feet at the last moment, tripping up any dreams of rock goddess greatness?

emily and the strangers cover

Krakenish Guru

wields tentacular guitar

Can Strange measure up?

One thing that is almost synonymous with Emily Strange is awesome and complicated artwork.  I really think I’ve been missing out in just reading the Emily novels because while there is a lot of incidental artwork in those books, the graphic novel is really where it’s at for this character and her adventures.  Really, the art is eye-poppingly good.  Have a look at an example from inside:

emily_and_strangers_brain_1

Check out the complexity! Appreciate the ingenius design! Notice the wallpaperish background! It’s just fantastic.  I’ve often found while browsing graphic novels that sometimes I have to stop because there’s too much visual information on the page.  I found the same with this one, but it was a good feeling.  After reading the story, I went back and spent some time really appreciating the art because it is so worth having a second look at.  Another great feature is the collection of initial concept designs at the back of the novel that give the reader an idea about how the artistic decisions progressed over the course of the novel’s production.  There are also some alternative poster designs for the Emily and the Strangers band.

As usual with graphic novels, I wished the story was longer, but that’s just the format.  Unlike most of my forays into graphic novels, I actually felt pretty satisfied with the amount of story that was presented here.  I was also reminded how accessible and relevant to the target age bracket the stories are.  One wouldn’t necessarily think it to look at the character, but while there’s always some edgy stuff going down, there’s nothing here that’s really shocking or violent or unpleasant, so it does make for a fun and quirky quick read.  And even the swearing is psuedo-swearing (and therefore particularly amusing and repeatable – you zorking flabberfarks!).  I’d highly recommend sharing this with any young folk of your acquaintance who are happy to have a go at reading in a different format, who enjoy a strong, smart and strange female protagonist and who love a nice bit of eyeball stimulating artwork – you (and your young person) will not be disappointed!

I will certainly be adding Volume 2 to my TBR list. Emily and the Strangers: The Battle of the Bands is due for publication on May 27th.

Cheerio my fellow oddbods!

Mad Martha

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Read-it-if Review: YA Fantasy Novella “Miyuki” and a GIVEAWAY!

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bannermiyuki

Good morning to you all! Before we begin, I’d like you to have a look outside…what’s the weather like today? Any fires predicted for your tranquil bush home? Are there likely to be rockfalls rattle-tattling down your mountain-side mecca?  Is that the mother of all thunder storms cracking outside your window? Well if any or all of these are lurking on your weather radar, today’s book reviews are definitely something you should keep your eye on.

I am very pleased to be part of the blog tour for Veronica Bane’s young adult fantasy novella, Miyuki, which is book two in the Unusuals series.  The tour  is running from March 1st to April 1st, and I’m lucky last on the tour.  Which could also be lucky for you, as I’m also offering the chance for one lucky reader to win paperback copies of the first two books in the series – hurrah! Giveaway info is at the end of the post.

As today’s review is of the second book in the series, I’ll also give you a handy rundown on the goings on of book one, entitled Mara.  In Mara, we are introduced to a group of teens living in the less than idyllic town of Jericho.  Things have always been a bit off-kilter down good ol’ Jericho way, what with general dislike and persecution of the Natives, and some decidedly odd goings on throughout the years.  During this book, we meet Mara, a reasonably unlikeable young lass who is grappling with a difficult family history and trying to come to terms with the fact that she can manipulate fire. As in, throw flaming fireballs from her hands and such like.  Mara begins to seek out others of her ilk, and discovers that Jericho has its fair share of “Unusuals” – people with certain superhuman abilities – but that being an Unusual also comes with a good chance of an early death at the hands of some of Jericho’s haters.

Layout 1

In book two, we pick up the story after Mara and some other Unusuals, Miyuki being one, find out who has been trying to pick them off.  Miyuki, manipulator of water and granddaughter of Katsumi, a long time resident of Jericho, has to learn how to use her abilities to fight in order to protect herself and the other Unusuals on her side.  Because, not every Unusual sees things the way Miyuki does.  Enter the mysterious and mixed-up Nayara and things are about to get violent. Fatally violent.

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Read it if:

– you’ve ever considered yourself a little bit…out of the ordinary

– you’re a misfit, a rebel on the run, and no one understands you…especially not your vengeful gun-toting brother, or the other thugs that have been hired specifically to kill you…yep, ESPECIALLY not them

– you suspect you may be in possession of very mild superpowers

– you enjoy your YA gritty, edgy and with a side dose of super-charged fight and flight

These two books felt very different from the general fare of YA fantasy being served up just at the moment.  The stories had some real suspense and  a pervading sense of fear woven into the mystery of just who is hunting the Unusuals and what they might want the talented kids for.  They are also reasonably quick reads, coming in at under 200 pages each, which is great if you’re looking for something that won’t bog you down for weeks on end while you plough through the previous book in order to get up to speed with the new release.

I was reminded of nothing so much as movies like the X-men while I was reading these two, and I would really LOVE to see these books in graphic novel format.  There’s a lot of action and the writing really paints a picture while you are reading, and I just feel that the characters and their story would work perfectly in an illustrated format.

These books would be the perfect choice for YA readers looking for a break from your standard high fantasy, but don’t want to bother with love-triangle romances or urban fantasy with a long, complicated back story.  Mara and Miyuki are the perfect novellas to jump into for a break from reality involving a bit of superhumanity, a bit of crash-bang-wallop and a bit of psychological thriller wrapped in a bite-size package.

So now for the giveaway! This one is only open to residents of the US (sorry non-US-ians) and the winner will receive paperback copies of both Mara and Miyuki.  To enter, just click on the rafflecopter link below (and good luck!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

small fryOh, and just for the record, these books fit right in to category four of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – a book with someone’s name in the title. Just sayin’.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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Existentialism and Monster-Taming: Two Graphic Novels…

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Afternoon friends and hangers-on! Recently I’ve been meandering a bit in my reading tastes and have delved into some graphic novels as I am wont to do on occasion…On this occasion I took the decision to delve after meandering past a display shelf at the library containing a graphic novel of intricate and/or inviting cover design.  The two I have for you today range in target audience, content and just plain oddness, so in case you’re planning to use this post as a Christmas gift guide (and why wouldn’t you?), you’d probably better pay attention so you don’t end up giving the fun, kiddy one to your broody Emo-teen nephew Reginald, and the super-creepy and sociopathic one to sweet little seven year old niece Emmy-Lou. You’ve been warned.

The Fun, Kiddy One

cats cradle

Cat’s Cradle: The Golden Twine by Jo Rioux tells the story of Suri, an orphan hanger-on to a travelling caravan who has dreams of being a monster-tamer.  After accidentally taming a terrifying monster held captive at the fair, she finds herself relentlessly pursued by some shape-shifting humanoid monsters for reasons unkown to her.  Luckily though, accidental monster-taming has its benefits and Suri ends the tale with at least one more friend that when she began.

The cover of this book drew me in immediately and I picked it up with absolutely no idea what the story was going to be about.  I often do that with graphic novels – I find I don’t need to know much about the story in order to be prepared to give it a go.  I’m glad I did (give it a go, that is), because the art and the story had me hooked.  Unfortunately, I finished the book in about 15 minutes and was desperate for more!  Luckily, I have just checked on the author’s website and book two is in the works. Hurrah!

Cat’s Cradle would be a perfect choice for reluctant readers of middle grade age, because the art and story are highly involving, easy to follow and draw the reader in.  With a female main character, this could also be a good choice for girls who are looking to expand their reading horizons and try something different from the standard fairy/fantasy chapter book.  Boys will surely enjoy this one too however, due to the themes of monster-hunting and magic powers.

See, this is why I love libraries – you never know what little gems are lurking in the stacks.  Book two in this series is called The Mole King’s Lair….I’ll be keeping my eyeballs out for it.

The Super-Creepy Sociopathic One

billy fog

I happened across Billy Fog and the Gift of Trouble Sight by Guillaume Bianco, as with Jo Rioux’s book, after spotting it on a library display stand.  Apparently, so the blurb (which I never bothered to read) goes, Billy Fog wears glasses, but when he takes them off, he can see all sorts of weird, creepy things that other kids can’t.  It’s probably good that I never read this blurb as that has little if anything to do with the story, such as it is, and I can’t even remember any pictures of him with glasses on in the actual book (although I’m sure they’re there).

No matter!  What really drew me to this one was the fantastic aged look of the cover and creepy, Burton-esque art style.  Check out some of the artwork – isn’t it just fantastically atmospheric and fun and oddly enticing?

Death-comes

SuperstitionWell, I thought it was.

Now. While this book has fantastic art, the content is just flippin’ weird.  So in the first few pages Billy’s cat Tarzan dies. He may have had something to do with it – that’s never made clear.  But basically, the book deals with Billy trying to make sense of that unwelcome, ever-present visitor hanging around in the shadows, death.  He even asks Santa Claus for some advice on the topic.  Other bits of the book feature Billy’s attempt at a bestiary of creatures that haunt dark spaces, and stories about other odd-bods that he has encountered in his young life.

I have to say it – this was a odd, creepy, unsettling book.  Strangely though, many books of this ilk have a weird sort of a pull, making it impossible to look away.  Billy Fog was no exception.  The weirdest part of the book was the really deep theme of existential angst running through the stories.  Essentially, while the main character of this book is a young child, the content is really for late teens and older.  The back of the book says 13+, but I think even that’s a bit optimistic.  You would not want to give this to a little kid, or indeed, a particularly sensitive kid – it would scar them for life and probably bring their nightmares to life – unless you want to instill in them a deep-seated fear of sleeping alone, that is.  You however, as a mature, open-minded and slightly anti-hipster-ish adult, will probably be intrigued by such a tome.

I have actually found a cover design for volume three of the Billy Fog saga, Billy Fog: The Boy Who No Longer Believed in Santa Claus that will give you a far better feel for the content (and is no less appealing, art-wise):

billy fog v3

See? Now you know what you’re getting yourself in for.

So there you have it – my little foray into differenetly-formatted fiction.  Sharp-eyed readers will also note that Cat’s Cradle would be the perfect choice in the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge 2014 for category two (a book with a piece of furniture in the title), while Billy Fog would suitably acquit both category four (a book with someone’s name in the title) or category six (a book with something precious in the title).  Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then click on the large and absurdly attractive button below to check out the challenge and join the Safari!

small fryUntil next time,

Bruce

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