A Quirky Take on Parental Frailty: Goodbye, Vitamin…

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goodbye vitamin

I’ve read quite a number of books featuring characters with Alzheimer’s or dementia in my time, but I’ve never come across one quite like Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong.  We received a copy of this one from Simon & Schuster for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Ruth is thirty and her life is falling apart: she and her fiancé are moving house, but he’s moving out to live with another woman; her career is going nowhere; and then she learns that her father, a history professor beloved by his students, has Alzheimer’s. At Christmas, her mother begs her to stay on and help. For a year.

Goodbye, Vitamin is the wry, beautifully observed story of a woman at a crossroads, as Ruth and her friends attempt to shore up her father’s career; she and her mother obsess over the ambiguous health benefits – in the absence of a cure – of dried jellyfish supplements and vitamin pills; and they all try to forge a new relationship with the brilliant, childlike, irascible man her father has become.

Most books about Alzheimer’s that I’ve come across tend to feature, at some point during the story, a scene or scenes that really bring home to the reader the harrowing disease that Alzheimer’s is – the way it erases the personality and memories of an individual and shatters the familiar ways in which family and friends have connected with the sufferer throughout their lifetime.

Goodbye, Vitamin is nothing like that.

In fact, Goodbye, Vitamin forgoes the inevitable destruction of the human brain and any relationships in which said brain was involved, and instead focuses on the ways in which Ruth, chaotic and underachieving daughter of an Alzheimer’s-afflicted father, tries to adjust to a life put on hold, while she helps out her mother for “just a year”.

I must admit, it was quite refreshing to read a book featuring a character with Alzheimer’s and not come away feeling angsty and unsettled at the prospect of literally having one’s mind slowly eroded from within.

The book is written in a sort of diary format, as Ruth recounts events in chronological order during her year back at home.  I generally find diary-type books engaging and so it was in this case.  I tend to enjoy that the sections can be quite short and so I feel like I’m getting somewhere with the book quickly.  Having said that, this isn’t an overly hefty read and things move along apace from the moment Ruth decides to give it a year until the poignant but hopeful ending.

Ruth has a dry and self-deprecating sense of humour and manages to reminisce on both her broken past relationship and her childhood relationship with her father without being particularly maudlin, but highlighting the weirdness that we accept as everday life.  Her father’s ex-students play a surprising and uplifting role in attempting to halt her father’s decline and I had a bit of chuckle at their cloak and dagger antics as well as their finding new excuses to take their “classes” off campus.

As much as this is a story about the decline of a family member and a change in the parent-child relationship, it is also a story about the chaos of early adulthood – yes, even up to one’s thirties!  Ruth is in as much a period of flux as her father as she tries to forget past mistakes and forge a new path in her career and life in general.

I would recommend Goodbye, Vitamin if you are looking for a convivial tale about an unwanted mental guest and the ways in which people choose to remember.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Shouty Doris Interjects during…TrollHunters!

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Shouty Doris interjects

It’s Bruce and Doris with you today with a new release YA novel that features trolls, adventure and illustrations! I excitedly received a copy of Trollhunters by Guillermo del Torro and Daniel Kraus from Five Mile Press and was happy to dive right in. Let’s get stuck in before Doris falls asleep.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In San Bernardino, California, children are going missing. The townspeople don’t believe the rumours of trolls, but fifteen-year-old Jim Jnr knows that they’re a very real threat. At night, is anyone safe? TROLLHUNTERS is a funny, gruesome and undeniably del Toro-esque adventure perfect for teen readers and fans of Pan’s Labyrinth.

trollhunters

As well as being wildly excited to read this book based on the awesome cover, the eye-poppingly brilliant illustrations and a terribly engaging extract, on discovering that Daniel Kraus was a co-author, my anticipation levels went into overdrive. Kraus is the author of Rotters, one of the most compelling and unforgettable books I have ever read and so I was expecting big things from Trollhunters. I have to say that all up, while the story was interesting enough, it didn’t live up to my expectations.

The first chapter drew me straight in, finding out about how Jim Jr’s uncle went missing all those years ago, and I was gearing up for a fast-paced romp until…..we meet up with Jim Jr at school. With his fat best friend and handsome jock bullies.

I have reached a point in my reading life at which I am confident to say that I am thoroughly over the popular/sporty boy bully picking on the weedy and/or fat unpopular kids.

Seriously.

Over it.

Shouty Doris interjects

You can say that again! How many stereotypical handsome, sporty, popular bullies can we stomach before we start feeding authors to their own tedious creations? Honestly, get some new material! Fancy being creative enough to come up with trolls and troll hunters and a missing child conspiracy and then fobbing us off with a bullying plotline that’s been done ad nauseum!

Indeed. I wouldn’t have minded so much if the predictable, tedious chapter at the start of the book was setting up some interesting twist later on, but unfortunately it just led up to a quick, also fairly predictable incident after the climax.

Shouty Doris interjects

Yep. Even I could see that one coming from a mile off, and I lost my glasses six years ago.

One of the things I loved about the book was the incredible illustrations.   I really think more middle grade and YA books could benefit from the kind of sporadic, full page illustrations that appear in Trollhunters. Apart from the fact that they are gorgeous to look at, I love being immersed in a tale only to turn the page and be surprised by an eye-popping bit of artwork. It’s like a secret reward for being engaged in the story.

I also loved the two main troll characters in the story. I can’t say too much for fear of spoilers, but these two really lifted the humour and pace of the story whenever they appeared. The ending gives a fitting tribute to the role that they played in Jim’s journey and was both sentimental and all kinds of awesome. Tub, Jim’s only friend, provided great comic relief and while I was mildly irritated by the fact that there was a romantic plotline added when it really didn’t need to be, Claire was a spot of sunshine also. The twist in her narrative arc was actually quite satisfying and I didn’t see it coming, so that was definitely a plus.

On the other hand, Jack, the uncle who disappeared forty years earlier and reappears in an unexpected fashion had the uncanny ability to slow things down and generally be a bit annoying every time he turned up.

Shouty Doris interjects

Yes, you’d think that after forty years he’d get a bit of maturity about him. Surly little bugger.  For someone who didn’t say a lot, I certainly dreaded him opening his mouth.

After finishing the book I am overwhelmed with the sense that this COULD have been a brilliant, engaging, fast-paced read…..IF it had been pitched at a middle grade audience.

As a YA fantasy/urban fantasy with humour, this fell far short of other books I have read in the genre, such as Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez or Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron. It didn’t have either the mythical complexity or the humour that I was hoping for and I just wanted things to move a bit quicker. However, with a slightly younger protagonist and cutting out all of the bullying and girl-angst stuff that did nothing but add mediocrity, this could have really taken off. As it is, I feel that it misses the mark.

Shouty Doris interjects

More trolls, fewer kids, I say.

Until next time,

Bruce

May Fiction in 50 Challenge: A Contradiction in Terms…

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Welcome to May’s instalment of Fiction in 50, where writers dauntless and bold set out to create a piece of fiction (or poetry…or in one case this month, narrative non-fiction!!) in fewer than 51 words. If you’d like more information on the challenge, simply click on the challenge image at the top of this post. This month, our prompt is…

may fi50 challenge

I will admit to being a little stumped this month, despite having come up with the prompt. After a bit of tea and chocolate however, I’ve managed to come through with a response for this month’s challenge. Whether it’s any good is entirely another matter!

I have titled my contribution:

On Trend

All I wanted was Nanna’s fourth-best tea set.

“What do you want that for?” Mum started going on. “Throw it away love, it’s chipped, useless.”

“No mum, it’s cutting edge; “Shabby Chic” it’s called.”

“Shabby tat, more like”.

Vintage is so hot right now.

Mum’s such an old fossil.

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Now it’s your turn! Don’t forget to pop a link to your efforts in the comments of this post so others can appreciate your narrative brilliance. If you’re sharing on twitter, don’t forget to use the hashtag #Fi50. Next month’s prompt will be…

june fi50 button

And this will be the last for the current set. If anyone has any suggestions for prompts for the second half of the year, let me know and I’ll endeavour to include them.

Cheerio then loves,

Bruce

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

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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:

 

Potty, Fartwell and Knob: From Luke Warm to Minty Badger, Extraordinary but True Names of British People by Russell Ash,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sci-Fi Baby Names: 500 Out of This World Names by Robert Schnakenberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until next time,

Bruce