An Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: The Snow Rose…

5

read it if NEW BUTTON

If you are looking for something to keep you occupied over the Christmas break – either cosied up in front of a roaring fire or barricaded in an air-conditioned room – then today’s book is definitely one to consider.  I wasn’t sure that I was going to love this one because it’s not my usual sort of adult fiction, but The Snow Rose by Lulu Taylor, which we received for review from PanMacmillan Australia, sucked me in hook, line and sinker.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Kate is on the run with her daughter, her identity hidden and her destination unknown to her husband and family. She’s found a place where she and Heather can be alone and safe, a huge old house full of empty rooms. But it turns out she’s not alone. There are the strange old ladies in the cottage next door, Matty and her blind sister Sissy. How long can Kate hide Heather’s presence from them? And then the newcomers arrive, the band of eccentrics led by the charming and charismatic Archer. Kate begins to realize that she is involved in something strange and dangerous, and the past she’s so desperate to escape is about to find her . . .

snow-rose

Read it if:

*you are a fan of stories that seamlessly blend contemporary and historical fiction in a twisty, intertwined way

*the idea of running away to a beautiful old isolated house sounds like paradise when adulting becomes all too much

*you prefer to organise your holiday accommodation through mysterious, untraceable companies offering employment to single ladies

*the likelihood of you being manipulated by a swindler is directly proportional to the youth, attractiveness, wealth and charisma of said swindler

What an absorbing book I found this to be!  The story turned out to be little of what I expected, but better than my expectations nonetheless.  The first thing you should know about The Snow Rose is that it is not one story, but two (possibly even three, depending on how you look at it) related but separate stories.  The first plotline features Kate, who has run away with her daughter for reasons that are only hinted at in the beginning, but become clear further down the track.  The second, related, storyline features past residents of the house, whose experience appears to be repeating itself with its new residents.  As well as those two main storylines, there are also segues into moments in the present that look to be history repeating, and some focus on the people that Kate left behind when she left.  All in all, this isn’t a basic relationship/finding-oneself type novel, as I expected it might be, but a complex, intricately woven combination of historical fiction and contemporary fiction with a hint of speculative fiction and the briefest of nods toward the paranormal thrown in.

The thing that I found most appealing about The Snow Rose was the fact that Kate, as the main character, seemed to be constantly evolving in her understanding of her bizarre situation and how it came to pass.  At no point was I able to predict how her story would turn out because she is, in some senses, unreliable in her insight into her motivations and the outcomes that she is chasing.  The old ladies that she meets while caretaking at the Big House, Sissy and Matty, provide a balance to Kate’s chaotic situation but also throw in new factors to complicate matters – Are they who they say they are?  What do they actually know about the house’s history?  Can they help Kate find her feet?

I loved the historical sections of the book.  Apart from being an abrupt change of pace from the contemporary sections featuring Kate, the characters in the historical section were so vivid and the events so surprising that I was happy to keep coming back to this time period to see what might happen next.  Like Kate, the main character in the historical plot line, Letty, is also going through some turbulent personal growth.

I suppose there may be some readers of this story who dislike the more bizarre, unexpected elements of it, given that these elements are quite unlikely, but these are exactly what lifted the story above your typical tortured soul story in my view. Kate’s story isn’t predictable.  It is quite unlikely.  There are elements throughout that will have the reader questioning what is real and what is not.  And it’s these characteristics that had me totally absorbed in the lives of the characters.

I’d highly recommend this for readers who want to lose themselves in someone else’s life, because in the coiling plotlines of The Snow Rose, there is plenty of opportunity to do so.

Until next time,

Bruce

Advertisements

Picture Book Perusal (and a giveaway!): Little Mouse…

2

picture book perusal button

Today’s picture book is a celebration of the vagaries of parenthood, kindly provided to us by new children’s imprint Scribble Publications for review. There’s also a giveaway for Aussie residents at the end of our review, so don’t forget to enter!  Little Mouse by Riika Jantti takes the reader gently by the paw and leads them through a typical day in the life of a parent-caregiver and pre-school aged tot. Here’s the blurb from Scribble:

A day in the life of a toddler is a busy one — as all parents know — and Little Mouse’s day is no exception. Between getting dressed, going to childcare, eating dinner, and making time for splashing in puddles, Little Mouse has a lot to do … and a lot to say ‘no’ to!

This warm and humorous picture book from well-loved Finnish author/illustrator Riikka Jäntti introduces Little Mouse — a small kid with a big personality — who parents and childen will relate to instantly. In Little Mouse, everyday life combines with the wonder of early childhood to produce a captivating story that’s sure to become a read-aloud favourite.

little-mouse-cover-1-0x500-c-default
There is a quiet charm in this book, which springs entirely from the fact that it will be so  completely familiar to anyone who has ever had to look after a small child for any length of time.  Nothing particularly exciting or unexpected happens in the story – the plot merely follows the events of a typical day for a mother and child – but the cheeky illustrations and many inflections on the word “No!” provide a giggle.  This image from one of the page spreads has to get the prize for summing up the perpetual state of exasperation in which many care-givers find themselves when having to repeatedly ask a young child to complete perfectly reasonable tasks, such as putting on clothes and eating food:
little mouse page
Did you get that?  Here it is in close up:
mouse eyeroll
See, you’re already feeling for Mummy Mouse, aren’t you?
Aside from the exasperation, there are also many moments of simple joy throughout the book, as when Little Mouse gets to play with his friends, jump in a puddle or (blissfully) fall into bed at the end of the busy day.  The book has an old-fashioned appeal to it, with a simple story and multiple illustrations on each page that will help little ones to follow the events.
We would recommend Little Mouse for when you and your mini-fleshling need a story that is entirely free from modern trappings and revels in the simple pleasure of sharing everyday happenings with each other.

Scribble are generously offering TWO readers the chance to own their very own copies of Little Mouse.  To enter, just click on the rafflecopter link below.

*This giveaway is for Australian residents only*  

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

Shouty Doris Interjects during….You Look Yummy!

1

Shouty Doris interjects

Welcome one and all to a tag-team review for a stand-out picture book that will have you  tearing up as your little ones beg for a second reading. We received You Look Yummy by Tatsuya Miyanishi from the publisher via Netgalley, after requesting it on the strength of its inviting cover design.  As always, when Shouty Doris is involved, some mild spoilers may be interjected.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

This sweet tale about the love between father and son is the first in a tremendously popular Tyrannosaurus series in 12 titles to date, with combined sales in excess of 3 million copies in Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan and France.  

A long, long time ago, a baby Ankylosaurus is born on a volcano erupting ground. As the little Ankylosaurus begins wandering around, a big Tyrannosaurus comes along. He is about to pounce when the baby cries out, “Daddy!” and grabs onto his leg. The baby thinks the Tyrannosaurus is his father, so as not to disappoint the little one, he takes on the task of raising a baby Ankylosaur. The two develop ever stronger bonds of love, but soon comes the day when they must part. Highlighting the importance of family, this sweet picture book celebrates the love between father and son.you look yummy

See that cheeky, quirky cover?  See that big, scary, Godzilla-like T-Rex? Now see that teeny little pink spiky blob behind him? That’s the sweet little Ankylosaur and his giant, T-Rex adoptive daddy.  Aren’t they adorable?  I couldn’t go past the utter cuteness of the little Ankylosaur and his hero-worship of his big strong protector, exacerbated by the eyeball-pleasing illustrative style.

Shouty Doris interjects

I didn’t think gargoyles had hormones, but you’ve obviously had some bizarre hormonal spurt because I can’t believe you’re getting all doe-eyed and gushy over a samey-samey, “Are you my mummy?” story that we’ve seen so many times you could write it in your sleep.

Oh Doris! How could you say such a thing? I agree that this is a fairly typical lost child story, but it is undeniably sweet and funny.  The scene of the T-Rex learning to appreciate little red berries as an alternative to meat was heart-warming and reflects every parent’s desire to support their children in their investigative exploits.

Shouty Doris interjects

Ridiculous.  The T-Rex should have eaten the Ankylosaur as soon as look at him.  And what was he thinking, letting the baby go wandering off into the forest? If he’s going to masquerade as the kid’s father, he should at least have made sure the kid didn’t go wandering off into the forest to be eaten by any number of other predators!

Contradicting yourself there, Doris.  There’s more text per page than I would have expected for a book aimed at this age group, but it is perfectly primed for read-aloud and the comic-style illustrations and format are incredibly engaging to look at.  I absolutely melted at the twist at the end of the story, too. It was a fantastic way to finish a funny, memorable book.

Shouty Doris interjects

Twist, schmist! That was always going to happen.  I don’t see how a child-stealing monster returning a baby to its rightful parents is in any way “heartwarming”.  If the book was in any way realistic that T-Rex would have been locked up for kidnap!

I think you’re losing it now Doris.  Perhaps its time for your lie down.

Shouty Doris interjects

Exactly.  Don’t forget to bring me a nice warm Milo in a timely fashion.  By the time you brought it up last time it was tepid and stodgy.

I’ll get right on it.  Really, I can certainly see why these characters have been such a success in other language editions and I will happily seek out the other books in this series if and when they become available.  Do yourself a favour and pick up this adorable and eye-catching little treat – you can say it’s for the mini-fleshlings, but we’ll know the truth between us!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Shouty Doris Interjects!… during YA New Release “Me Being Me is Exactly As Insane As You Being You”

1

Shouty Doris interjects

Welcome once again to the shelf for a close look at an intriguingly premised YA new release, Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You by Todd Hasak-Lowry. Today I am joined by Shouty Doris, who has a few things to say about our experiences of this book. Given that Shouty Doris has a very low level of regard for the sensitivities of others, you can be certain that this review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS! You have been warned.  I also must say a hearty thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for furnishing us with a copy of this exceedingly hefty tome (646 pages!) and an impressed “well done” to the Australia Post postie who lugged it to our address.

But let’s get on. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Darren hasn’t had an easy year. There was his parents’ divorce, which just so happened to come at the same time his older brother Nate left for college and his longtime best friend moved away. And of course there’s the whole not having a girlfriend thing. Then one Thursday morning Darren’s dad shows up at his house at 6 a.m. with a glazed chocolate doughnut and a revelation that turns Darren’s world inside out. In full freakout mode, Darren, in a totally un-Darren move, ditches school to go visit Nate. Barely twenty-four hours at Nate’s school makes everything much better or much worse—Darren has no idea. It might somehow be both. All he knows for sure is that in addition to trying to figure out why none of his family members are who they used to be, he’s now obsessed with a strangely amazing girl who showed up out of nowhere but then totally disappeared.

Told entirely in lists, Todd Hasak-Lowy’s debut YA novel perfectly captures why having anything to do with anyone, including yourself, is:

1. painful

2. unavoidable

3. ridiculously complicated

4. possibly, hopefully the right thing after all.

me being me

Did you get that? The book is formatted ENTIRELY IN LISTS! As an avid list writer and general fan of lists, that was enough to have me salivating over this tome. Unfortunately, there was one main problem with these lists.

Shouty Doris interjects

I’ll say. They were about as funny and engaging as a train-spotting accountant’s grocery list. AND they made the book ridiculously long. Not to mention heavy. God only knows what they were thinking with this one.

Yes. Well. As Shouty Doris so clearly points out, if a book is to be composed entirely in list format, I would suggest making those lists reasonably quirky and interesting. Or chuckleworthy. Or at the very least, engaging. Sadly, most of the lists in this book were …well…unnecessary and plot-slowing.

Shouty Doris interjects

Yes, yes, we realise the boy is confused but including multiple lists consisting of various ways to say “What the Fox?” is both tedious and self-indulgent. Honestly, I wanted to poke someone’s eyes out by about page 50. Preferably my own.

I also had a bit of a problem with the main character, Darren. Essentially, I found him to be quite underdeveloped and that he lacked a solid voice. I didn’t really feel that he had anything going for him, especially considering the characters around him, including his overcompensating father, his self-centred and distant mother and his significantly-cooler-than-Darren brother, were just so much better developed. So while I quite enjoyed the parts that involved Darren relating his interactions with these other characters, a significant part of the book is just Darren monologuing in fairly uninspiring lists.

Shouty Doris interjects

Can’t stand a monologue. Especially from a teenager. Nobody can wallow in misplaced self-pity quite like a teenager.

The strange thing about this book (and be prepared for spoilers here) is that the actual content could have formed the basis of a fantastically engaging read. The incident mentioned in the blurb that causes Darren to question his very identity (and indulge in multiple WTF? lists) is one that was unusual enough to generate lots of interest as well as provide a springboard for in-depth examination, discussion and general turning-over of the topic. It really could have been a story that engaged teenagers (and others) in discussing their attitudes, beliefs and prejudices and how these might affect them if they (or someone close to them were in a similar situation).

Shouty Doris interjects

Stop beating around the proverbial. The twist is that Darren’s father announces over the breakfast table that he’s GAY. Wouldn’t that be an interesting way to start the day for young Darren?! Imagine what could have followed! But young pity-party Darren just uses the opportunity for another round of “What the Foxes”.

Seriously, I feel that the author missed an opportunity here to make this story relevant and arresting. The coming out of Darren’s father isn’t actually the only storyline going on here and I felt that things just got convoluted and the focus of the plot wasn’t clearly defined. I suppose this is a danger of breaking usual rules of narrative style – while the list idea is great as an initial drawcard, it needs to be backed up by masterful writing and, more importantly in my view, ruthless editing.

Overall, I think there will be a certain readership who really enjoy Darren’s story and can appreciate the author’s style, but for me, it was disappointing to see an interesting format and a conceptually meaningful story, with potentially far-reaching influence, executed in such a pedestrian way.  I suspect I would have enjoyed this much more if the author had dispensed with the quirky list idea and instead focused on developing the characters and plot.

Shouty Doris interjects

It’s a “no” from me, Barry.

Until next time,

Bruce (not Barry. Forgive her, she’s getting on.)

A YA (ish) Read-it-if Review: Hyacinth Girls…

1

image

Welcome to a Read-it-if review for a book that has been on my Netgalley shelf for months and months and months that I’ve only just managed to get to.  Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel, like The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, is one that I put off and put off because its publication date was so far off, only to find that I should have picked it up sooner because it is well worth chatting about.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Thirteen year old Callie is accused of bullying at school, but Rebecca knows the gentle girl she’s raised must be innocent. After Callie is exonerated, she begins to receive threatening notes from the girl who accused her, and as these notes become desperate, Rebecca feels compelled to intervene. As she tries to save this unbalanced girl, Rebecca remembers her own intense betrayals and best-friendships as a teenager, when her failure to understand those closest to her led to tragedy. She’ll do anything to make this story end differently. But Rebecca doesn’t understand what’s happening or who is truly a victim, and now Callie is in terrible danger.

This raw and beautiful story about the intensity of adolescent emotions and the complex identity of a teenage girl looks unflinchingly at how cruelty exists in all of us, and how our worst impulses can estrange us from ourselves – or even save us.

hyacinth girls

Read it if:

*you’ve ever been given a demeaning nickname

*you like adult fiction that is cleverly disguised as young adult fiction

*you’ve been clamouring for a book featuring young people and bullying, in which the characters are more than stereotypical, paper-thin, mean girls, and the adults have backstories too

Right off the bat, I have to acknowledge how unexpectedly noteworthy I found this story to be. When I flicked back to the blurb and found out that this was a “teen bullying” story I was preparing myself for the run-of-the-mill, mean girls scenario with cliques and rich bitches and everything we’ve seen before in a thousand movies and books. While the blurb gives the indication that this is a YA book, I think that this is actually properly realised adult fiction that features young characters and bullying, but focuses on deeper explorations of the characters, their motivations and relationships. [Interjection: Yes, I realise YA is “proper fiction” too, so no need to send the hate mail just yet]. I suspect that adult readers will get just as much out of this, if not more, than their teenaged counterparts and that is the mark of a good book all-round.

Hyacinth Girls is told in alternating points of view, beginning with that of Rebecca, who has become the guardian of teenager Callie after her mother, Joyce (Rebecca’s childhood best friend), was killed in an accident and her father committed suicide. The early parts of the story focus on Rebecca’s shock and denial when informed that Callie has been involved in serious bullying of a classmate. The story moves back and forth between the present day, as Rebecca tries her darnedest to clear Callie’s name, and Rebecca’s childhood with Joyce, her older cousin and his girlfriend.

About halfway through the book, the story switches to Callie’s point of view and the reader becomes privy to the “other side of the story” as it were. It isn’t too hard to see that Rebecca suffers from a sort of functional blindness toward Callie’s alleged behaviour and sharp readers will be pleased to note that their suspicions are confirmed in Callie’s telling of the story. Toward the end of the book, the perspectives change again as events come to a head and secrets and lies come back to haunt all the characters.

What I most appreciated about this story is that the characters are all deeply fleshed out. Each character has flaws and a back story and motives that are understandable and familiar, but not stereotypical. The book really explores the concepts of error and redemption through characters who are judged outwardly by their actions and characters for whom the judgement (and damnation) is self-wrought and internal. Hyacinth Girls manages to set itself apart from the crowd of “seen-it-all-before” books on bullying to really explore the people who engage in it, the people who fight against it and the people who unwittingly support it. I particularly appreciated the realistic fallout (or lack thereof) at the very end of the book, when the reader gets to reflect on the tumultuous events of the story and their impact on the lives of the characters in the context of a wider society of those who don’t have a personal stake in the lives of these particular young people.

Overall I think that aside from being a “bullying” book, Hyacinth Girls is just a really absorbing read.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Fiction in 50 April Challenge: The Trouble With…

7

fiction in 50Welcome to Fiction in 50 for April!   If you’d like to join in, simply create a piece of fiction or poetry in 50 words or less using this month’s prompt and post a link to your work of genius in the comments. If you want to share on twitter, don’t forget to use the hashtag #Fi50.  To find out more about the challenge and future prompts, simply click on the large attractive button at the beginning of this post.  This month’s prompt is…

the trouble with Fi50 buttonYou fill in the blank!

I have gone for a bit of cheekiness as usual, and after much editing and word-slashing I give you my contribution.  I have titled it….

The Trouble with Modern Parents

Dear Editor,

Out shopping, I noticed a lad rudely refusing fruit offered by his mother. I loudly mentioned that those who shun healthy food are more likely to die young from vile diseases.

Rather than thanks, I then received some choice language from the mother.

Society’s gone mad.

B. Goodfellow

I’m excited to see what others come up with for this month – our “fill in the blank” prompts always inspire a wealth of creativity.

For those who like to be prepared, next month’s prompt will be…

may fi50 challenge

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Stenchblossoms Re-loaded: A Word on Naming One’s Offspring

15

Afternoon all.  I come to you on this lazy, rainy Saturday with a lazy, rainy re-post of one of my earliest posts.  I’ve been overhearing a lot about baby names around the shelf lately, so I thought I would re-post a tiny bit of my own brilliance, in suggesting some potential offspring monikers from great fiction-y literature.  Enjoy!

names

**  Please note no responsiblity will be taken for incessant teasing resulting from the infliction of any of these names on your offspring **

A Stench Blossom by any other name would smell as sweet….

Names are important, aren’t they? This is as true for gargoyles as it is for flesh folk. I myself am named after my great-grandfather – a mighty shelf warrior, who only ever allowed books from his shelf to be borrowed on the condition that the borrower left a token as a guarantee that the book would be returned. This token usually took the form of the first-born spawn of the borrower.

I have noticed, from overheard conversations between flesh folk, that there seems to be a trend toward unique and unusual names for newly minted flesh folk. For the greater good of fleshling kind, I wish to contribute some suggestions for names from the world of fiction. These should scratch any itch for individuality that a new flesh parent may feel. “Verily!” these names shout, “Great thinkers they may not have been, but let no one state that my name-givers were not great readers!”

For the unique and unusual male child:

Voldemort (Harry Potter Series/J.K. Rowling) – a name for parents who wish their child to be ambitious, academic, set apart from common folk and great contributors to hitherto unexplored avenues of evil .

Tumnus (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe/C.S.Lewis) – for parents who envisage a child who has a gift for music, and a desire to help lost children…while plotting their imminent downfall.

Slartibartfast (The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy/Douglas Adams) – sure to satisfy lovers of interesting spelling everywhere, this name would be best suited to the child developing an early and keen interest in fjords.

Mistoffelees (Old Possum’s Practical Book of Cats/T.S. Eliot) – Another for the you-neek spelling brigade…and there’s hardly likely to be another kid in the same class with this one, is there?

Oedipus (Corduroy Mansions Series/Alexander McCall Smith) – it goes without saying that this is the perfect choice for the quintessential “Mummy’s boy”.

For the different and diverse female child:

Narcissa (Harry Potter Series/J.K. Rowling) – any teen girl child spending hours in front of the mirror will no doubt be accused of loving herself on at least one occasion….why not take the sting out of the barb and acknowledge this tendency at birth?

Pestilence (The Bible, The 13th Horseman/Barry Hutchison) – traditionally a male name, I’m hoping this one can make the leap across the gender gap and be taken up by trendsetting parents of girls…it has a charming ring to it, don’t you think?

Verruca (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory/Roald Dahl) – the perfect appellation for that child who is always underfoot.

Tofu (Scotland Street Series/Alexander McCall Smith) – another name that I hope will bridge the gender gap, it acknowledges the tendency of the majority of folk to be blandly average. On the other hand, this name could suit the child who has a gift for making up the numbers in any social situation.

Shelob (The Lord of the Rings Series/J. R. R. Tolkien) – admittedly a strong name for a young lady, possibly best suited to a tomboy. Or a lass who is fond of the number eight. Or who has an affinity with arachnids. Or prefers the hairy-legged look.

While this list should provide any prospective parents with a wealth of names to choose from, further inspiration may be drawn from the following two tomes that I have come across in my bookish wanderings:

Until next time,

Bruce