My Lovely Frankie: An Evocative, Timely and Insightful Glimpse into Catholicism of the Past…

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my lovely frankie

My Lovely Frankie by Judith Clarke.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th June, 2017.  RRP: $19.99

I sit on the shelf of practicing Catholics.  The he-fleshling has a cousin in the clergy and an uncle who is one of Australia’s most prominent theologians.  The she-fleshling’s father spent time in the seminary training to become a Christian brother.  They are Catholics that, being of the post Vatican II era, fully grasp and vehemently despise – as many non-Catholics do – the hypocrisy and power hungriness that characterises the culture of the Church in general and the clergy in particular.  When the she-fleshling’s father left the seminary to pursue marriage, his parents were sent a note of condolence on his (from the clergy’s point of view) ridiculous and life-wrecking decision.  So I fully appreciated the gentle and accurate rendering of life in a 1950s seminary that Judith Clarke has created in historical YA novel, My Lovely Frankie.  

If you are not Catholic, have no knowledge of how the Catholic clergy works and has worked in the past, or have no insight into how the Church has changed (and more importantly, how it hasn’t) over the past 70+ years however, you may be mildly to majorly baffled by the decisions made by some of the characters in this book.  With that advisory message under our belts, let us continue.

We received our copy of this title from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A masterful, moving story about a teenage boy caught between faith and love, by one of Australia’s finest YA writers.’Frankie believed in Heaven quite literally, as if it was another lovely world out past the stars. And when he spoke the word “love”, it seemed to spring free and fly into the air like a beautiful balloon you wanted to run after. But I couldn’t tell my parents about Frankie, not properly. I told them I’d made friends with the boy in the room next to mine, and how he’d come from this little town out west. I couldn’t tell them how he was becoming the best thing in my world. I couldn’t tell anyone, I hardly admitted it to myself.’

In the 1950s, ‘entering’ the seminary was for ever, and young boys were gathered into the priesthood before they were old enough to know what they would lose. Tom went to St Finbar’s because he was looking for something more than the ordinary happiness of his home and school.But then he discovered that being able to love another person was the most important thing of all.

For Tom, loving Frankie made him part of the world. Even when Frankie was gone…

Although this is classified as a YA novel, I think it’s safe to say that the setting and historical background underpinning Tom’s reflections will be lost on many current twelve to seventeen year old readers.  I think it was a lucky thing that I have a background knowledge of Catholicism and the structure of the Church both on a personal level and through tertiary studies, because it allowed many parts of the book to resonate with me in a way that might not be possible for young readers of today, be they Catholic or otherwise.  Couple that with the fact that the narrative style of the book is reflective, gentle and lacking in action for the majority of the novel and this may not be seen as a winner for its target age group.

Nevertheless, if you have any interest in historical novels and themes of coming of age against difficult social circumstances, I would encourage you to give My Lovely Frankie a go.

Tom decides, of his own accord, to enter the seminary and train to be a priest.  While this may not have been a strange decision in the 1950s – indeed, for Catholic families with multiple sons, it was almost a given that at least one boy would go into the Church – for Tom, this decision could be classed as a bit unusual because he is an only child and his parents don’t seem to be particularly pious or involved in the Church.  Nevertheless, Tom stands by his decision and while in the sparse, regimented and emotionally distant environment of the seminary, he meets Frankie.  Frankie is a breath of fresh air in the stale corridors, and felt to me almost like a St Francis of Assisi character; the one who is out frolicking amongst the baby animals while the others are restrained by tradition and discipline from admitting to and engaging with the beauty of life.   Tom becomes fascinated with Frankie and when Frankie mysteriously disappears from the seminary later, it affects Tom such that his whole life is coloured by the loss.

The story opens on Tom’s dotage and the reader is privy to the importance that Tom has placed on his relationship with Frankie, fleeting though that relationship was.  From there, the book flicks back to Tom’s youth, and the decisions that led him to enter the seminary – and perhaps more importantly, the decisions that caused him to remain there.  Alongside the tale of friendship and unrequited romance between Tom and Frankie, the book highlights themes of emotional connection and the development of empathy (or lack of it) in an environment as restricted as the seminary.

Clarke has cleverly thrown up many of the issues that are major factors in the train wreck that is the current state of Catholic clergy, including the enforced separation of young boys from their families while training to be priests, an overblown sense of superiority bestowed upon those who would be priests and a complete lack of acknowledgement or understanding about key aspects of being human, such as sexuality and emotional connection.  Through Tom’s eyes, Clarke brings to light the great injustices and suffering that have been the result of such a regime, both for those within the clergy and those who have been impacted forever by the actions of clergy members.

Allow me to share with you one of the most telling lines of the book for me, in which Tom reflects on the constant nighttime crying of the youngest kids at the seminary:

“…it was part of our training, our formation: for us there was no use crying because no one would ever come to comfort us.  Like soldiers, we were being taught to have no pity for ourselves, and even then the edge of it struck me: that if you had no pity on yourself, how could you have it for other people, ever?”

My Lovely Frankie, page 119

Once again, although I found the book absorbing and thought-provoking and bang-on accurate in its setting and atmosphere, I am still struggling to see how this will appeal to a contemporary audience of teenagers.  Perhaps if any of you give it a go, you’ll let me know your thoughts?

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: Shake Hands or Die…

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How did it get to be Monday again so fast?  However it happened, Monday means murder and we received Shake Hands or Die by Michael Northey from the publisher via Netgalley for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“Father John was friendly during the services. He had no problem in greeting people during the Peace, where people wander about mid-service saying hello, peace, waving, some greeting others with a chaste hug, in general recognition of being one big family. He had a nice smile. Only he never stood at the church door after service to shake hands or say goodbye…”

Wacky new vicar Father John aims to modernise St Martha’s church in the delightful city of Hillford. People love his fun gimmicks but cannot understand why he will not ever shake hands at the end of service. Even the charming archdeacon, Babs, cannot get him to change his mind. Until one day, the reason becomes crystal clear.

Ambitious journalist Fred Vestal, on loan from a London tabloid, is trying to shake up the sleepy local paper. He turns up to a service at St Martha’s and sees an uninhibited children’s play. After getting a sniff of a story, he interviews the vicar and writes a vicious article, labelling Father John as a public menace.

When they next meet, Father John refuses to shake hands with Fred. Soon afterwards a body is found in a pile of compost in the churchyard. The little cathedral city of Hillford, where even the police seem off-beat, looks for an answer…

shake-hands-or-die

Plot Summary:

John is a vicar with some madcap methods that seem to be bringing the punters back to the Church. Fred is a journalist with the aim of making a name for himself, no matter how many reputations he destroys in search of the truth. When Fred is found dead outside John’s church, for the police all roads seem to lead to Rome. (Well, C of E).

The Usual Suspects:

For much of the book, there are only two suspects: John the vicar and a gang of thugs who were last seen carrying Fred off on their shoulders, ostensibly in hero worship.  Really though, the police only ever suspect John, given the fact that he has motive and, rather stupidly in our opinion, buggered off immediately after the murder happened.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Starts off farcically, takes a slide through bizarre Shakespearean monologue and finishes without the police doing much at all.

Overall Rating:

poison clip artpoison clip art

 

 

 

Two poison bottles for the kind of quirky comedy one might find in “Carry on, Vicar”.

 

This turned out to be wholly and utterly the kind of cosy mystery from which I normally steer well clear.

You know the ones.

There’s a veritable tsunami of ones set in America, with themes of knitting, baking or painting and suitably pun-laden titles such as Grand Hoummus-cide and Brushed Off and Hooked on Murder.  In these mysteries, the focus tends more toward the quirkiness of the setting/characters/situation and less toward an actual reasonable murder mystery with a logical and intriguing solution.

So it was with Shake Hands or Die.  Strangely though, the irritating quirkiness didn’t really start to show itself until about a third of the way through, so I was already drawn into the story before I twigged to exactly the kind of quicksand of ridiculum into which I had unwittingly stepped.  The first third of the story introduces John and his wacky, lively methods that have swelled the congregation of his parish church, as well as his idiosyncratic insistence on not shaking hands after the service.  By a third of the way through, the reader is given the necessary back story as to why shaking hands is such a stressor for John, and the story then moves on to introduce soon-to-be-dead Fred, the journalist with an axe to grind.  The second third of the book starts to deal with the relationship between John and Fred, features the murder of the aforementioned soon-to-be-dead Fred and then quickly descends into absolute silliness from which an ensemble cast of absolute loonies takes the stage.

We have the gang of thugs who are actually university educated professionals in disguise who spend their time calling each other canine-inspired names and being smugly sarcastic to those less educated than themselves.  There’s Karen, the fiancee of dead Fred, who gets pages and pages of soliloquy on the spot of her lover’s demise, replete with phrases like, “Oh Fred, my Fred, my darling, my only love, Fred!”

I kid you not.

There’s also a vigilante gang of old people (including the indespensible retired army Major character) who attempt to do some investigating of their own. Then there’s the police – an odd couple who are having an affair, of which much is made, as well as having difficulty agreeing on how to go about investigating the crime, of which little is made.  One of the policeman is also brother to a local councilman and these two speak in the most unlikely contrived way to each other that it had me scratching my head throughout.

The ending and reveal eventually come with a whimper rather than a bang, and by this stage I could not fathom what it was that I had just read.  Either this cosy mystery thing has blown out toward whimsy beyond all proportions, or the editor of this one read the first third, decided, “Yep, that should be fine”, and subsequently didn’t bother casting an eye over the rest.

I’d recommend this is you like murder mysteries that make you feel as if you’ve tripped and stumbled into the twilight zone of contrived English countryside villages.  Otherwise, it’s probably best to move right along.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

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

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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

An Exotic, Memoirish Double-Dip Review…with a side order of Alphabet Soup

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imageIt’s time to settle back with a fond-memory-inducing snack and enjoy today’s Double-Dip review that also features a side order of the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas.  We received both of today’s books from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Both are memoirs of sorts, one featuring multiple road-trips in pursuit of knitting utopia, the other featuring the wacky world of one Pakistani-Canadian Muslim film-maker.  And on that appetising note, let’s get stuck in, shall we?

First up we have Laughing All the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Zarqa Nawaz has always straddled two cultures. She’s just as likely to be agonizing over which sparkly earrings will “pimp out” her hijab as to be flirting with the Walmart meat manager in a futile attempt to secure halal chicken the day before Eid. Little Mosque on the Prairie brought Zarqa’s own laugh-out-loud take on her everyday culture clash to viewers around the world. And now, in Laughing All the Way to the Mosque, she tells the sometimes absurd, sometimes challenging, always funny stories of being Zarqa in a western society. From explaining to the plumber why the toilet must be within sitting arm’s reach of the water tap (hint: it involves a watering can and a Muslim obsession with cleanliness “down there”) to urging the electrician to place an eye-height electrical socket for her father-in-law’s epilepsy-inducing light-up picture of the Kaaba, Zarqa paints a hilarious portrait of growing up in a household where, according to her father, the Quran says it’s okay to eat at McDonald’s-but only if you order the McFish.  

laughing all the way to the mosqueDip into it for…

…a two-parts funny, one-part serious and one-part bizarre foray into the unfamiliar (to me!) world of Islam in the context of a Pakistani-Bengali-Canadian family.  I’m in two minds about this book because I assumed that, sitting, as I do, on the shelf of a pair of Catholics, there would be plenty of situations here that would feel like the familiar frustrations and giggle-worthy moments of those of us raised and immersed in institutionalised religion…but for most of the book I felt like I was reading something completely outside my experience.  Apart from the many humorous situations described, including the “cleanliness” section described in the blurb – who knew about THAT?! Muslims, I suppose – and Nawaz nonchalantly taking on the role of hostess for over one hundred family, friends and neighbours for a major religious holiday, there are also some quite serious issues discussed as well – such as how the author’s family dealt with a neighbour reporting her father-in-law to the authorities soon after 9/11 for having a “suspicious” shipping container in his front yard.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not prepared to embrace a story that flips from funny to unexpected to thought-provoking within a few pages.  If you are not a Muslim, and don’t know much about Islam, don’t dip if you aren’t prepared to discover rituals, theological points of contention and aspects of daily life that you never suspected existed.

Overall Dip Factor

While I did enjoy this book, I will admit to feeling an ever-present sense of slight discomfort while reading – mainly because it was during reading this book that I realised that while I thought I knew lots of “stuff” about Islam, I actually know VERY little about it.  I would certainly recommend this book as a fun, yet important, eye-opening reading experience about an ordinary family’s experience of their faith.   If there’s one thing I would have liked to hear more about though, it would be the TV series developed by Nawaz – Little Mosque on the Prairie.  How could this have gone for six seasons without me ever hearing about it? Bizarre.

Next, let us move on to Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World by Clara Parkes.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Knitting aficionado and notable artisan Clara Parkes delves into her storied travels with this inspiring and witty memoir on a creative life enriched by her adventures around the world.

Building on the success of The Yarn Whisperer, Parkes’s rich personal essays invite readers and devoted crafters on excursions to be savored, from a guide who quickly comes to feel like a trusted confidante. In Knitlandia, she takes readers along on 17 of her most memorable journeys across the globe over the last 15 years, with stories spanning from the fjords of Iceland to a cozy yarn shop in Paris’s 13th arrondissement.

Also known for her PBS television appearances and hugely popular line of small-batch handcrafted yarns, Parkes weaves her personal blend of wisdom and humor into this eloquently down-to-earth guide that is part personal travel narrative and part cultural history, touching the heart of what it means to live creatively. Join Parkes as she ventures to locales both foreign and familiar in chapters like:

Chasing a Legend in Taos
Glass, Grass, and the Power of Place: Tacoma, Washington
A Thing for Socks and a Very Big Plan: Portland, Oregon
Autumn on the Hudson: The New York Sheep & Wool Festival
Cashmere Dreams and British Breeds: A Last-Minute Visit to Edinburgh, Scotland

Fans of travel writing, as well as knitters, crocheters, designers, and fiber artists alike, will enjoy the masterful narrative in these intimate tales from a life well crafted. Whether you’ve committed to exploring your own wanderlust or are an armchair traveler curled up in your coziest slippers, Knitlandia is sure to inspire laughter, tears, and maybe some travel plans of your own.

I1342768.pdfDip into it for…

…a fairly self-indulgent lark around various knitting hotspots aimed at those who are deeply embedded in the US and International “Knitting Scene”.  The book is replete with vignettes of Parkes’ time in various places around the world, for reasons related to knitting conferences, teaching and general knitting-based travel.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a hardcore knitter.  Or if you cringe at name-dropping.  Or if you don’t want to read excessively wordy descriptions of various hotel foyers.  Or if you don’t particularly care about “famous” people in the knitting scene and Parkes’ deep and abiding friendships with them.

Overall Dip Factor

I was really hoping that this was going to be the perfect contender for a Utopirama post.  Knitting and travel – what else could one want in life? Well, plenty, if you don’t enjoy any of the factors I’ve just mentioned above.  While there were plenty of chapter headings to draw me in here, I found the writing overall to be such that it seemed to specifically aim to alienate readers who are not knowledgeable about the movers and shakers in the knitting and design world.  As a friend of a crocheter, I had very little knowledge, or indeed, interest, in Parkes’ name-dropping.  The first story relates how Parkes came to know a particularly well-known (to everyone but me apparently) hand-spinner and dyer, which I would have found interesting if Parkes hadn’t insisted on ramming home HOW famous and HOW selective this lady was with her friendships.  There was a section on a trip to Iceland that was reasonably interesting, but I suspect this is because Iceland is an interesting place, not because Parkes’ writing made it so.  **On a side note, in this section, Parkes mentions two Australian co-travellers who she reckons say “Perth” like “Pith”.  This nearly had me throwing my kindle at the wall.  Australians would not say “Pith”. Ever.  The vowel sound in “Perth” is a diphthong and therefore it would be ridiculous for anyone to use a short vowel in the word.  I could have handled it if she said they pronounced it “Peer-th”, even though that would be closer to a Kiwi pronunciation, but not “Pith”.  Being a linguist, I feel like I’ve got the knowledge to pull Parkes up on this oneAnd if you have been slightly irritated by my digression into minutesubject-specific analysis and assertions that I know more stuff than you about linguistics, then you’ve probably just developed a good sense of what I was feeling while reading this book.** Despite my early misgivings, I soldiered on and was unimpressed to discover that the name-dropping and self-indulgent “I’m more into the knitting scene than you” tone continued.  Shame really.  Approach with caution.

As I mentioned before, I am submitting both of these books for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

If you want to see my progress so far in this challenge, click here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

An Fi50 Reminder…and an Atmospheric Bit of Literary Horror

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imageBefore we crack on with our book for today, I would like to remind all comers that Fiction in 50 for August kicks off on Monday. If you’d like to join in, just compose a fictional piece of writing in fewer than 51 words based on our monthly prompt, and then pop back on Monday to share your link in the comments section.

This month’s prompt is…

calculated risk button

If you’d like more information about the challenge, just click on the challenge button at the top of this post.

Now on to the atmospheric bit of literary horror that I promised in the title.  The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley is an unsettling tale of faith and family and straying from the expected path.  I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it the Loney – that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest. It was impossible to truly know the place. It changed with each influx and retreat, and the neap tides would reveal the skeletons of those who thought they could escape its insidious currents. No one ever went near the water. No one apart from us, that is. I suppose I always knew that what happened there wouldn’t stay hidden for ever, no matter how much I wanted it to. No matter how hard I tried to forget…

the loney

 

The Loney, as much as it was absorbing and haunting, was also a book that left me mildly dissatisfied by the end.

And disoriented.

And fairly creeped out.

Liam, our narrator, is a typical young Catholic lad, caught between the Church, his boyishness and his mother. His older brother Andrew is not all that his mother hoped he would be, experiencing as he does some unidentified developmental delays, and the boys’ mother fervently hopes that her eldest son will be healed by the grace of God, and his mother’s faith. The family and a small number of fellow parishioners travel on a pilgrimage every year to “the Loney” – a remote, unhospitable place that is home to a shrine that Liam’s mother believes will be the site of Hanny’s healing.

The story follows the group as they return to the Loney after a decade’s absence, with a new, more liberal priest in tow. From meeting odd and unreadable village folk to finding a long-hidden room in the house in which they’ve always stayed, the visit is a long, confounding and demoralising experience filled with disappointments and unexpected surprises. Through it all, Liam steadily narrates the events as he sees them as they roll on towards a climax that is both inevitable and utterly out-of-the-blue.

The bulk of the tale are events from Liam’s past and throughout the book the reader is treated to some tantalising pieces of Liam’s present life, wherein the situation is obviously far removed from the events being described. These snippets give us the idea that the relationship between Hanny and Liam in the present day is at odds with what we are being told about their experiences in the past, and this juxtaposition is critical to the events that make up the unexpected ending.

I mentioned earlier that the book left me feeling mildly dissatisfied and that was mainly because I felt that the intertwining of Liam’s past and present could have been used to far better effect if there had been more included about Liam and Hanny’s present relationship. I can’t say too much because it would spoil the ending for future readers, but after I had finished the book I definitely felt like I wanted more of that bit – “that bit” being the events of the last two chapters, which took such a twist that I just wanted more information.

If you are looking for a different sort of a literary read, which focuses deeply on relationships between family members, will be very familiar and relatable to Catholics of a certain age and expertly exudes a haunting and unsettling atmosphere throughout, then I would highly recommend picking up The Loney. And if you do, please tell me what you thought of the reading experience, because I’m still feeling a bit unsettled about it even now.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

An Adult Fiction Haiku Review: Tita…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today presenting a very unusual little offering in the world of literary fiction.  I was lucky enough to win a review copy of this one through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program and because of this have been introduced to a little gem of a read that is a perfect pick for holiday hermit reading.  The book of which I speak is Tita by Marie Houzelle.  Here is the blurb, from Goodreads:

Tita is seven, and she wonders what wrong with her. She has perfect parents. She puts on plays with her friends, spies on adults, challenges her teacher, and even manages to read forbidden books. She should be happy. But she dreams of a world without meals, and keeps worrying about her mother’s whereabouts, spoiling her own life for no reason at all. Tita wants to be good – but how?
As her small town vibrates to age-old Latin rituals on the verge of slipping away, Tita finds refuge – and a liberation- in books.

TitaPoppet muses on

life and certain adult themes

in multiple tongues

Now I usually make up my own description of books that I review, but I have slacked off today and used Goodreads’ blurb because I really can’t think of how to describe the happenings in the book, as they are a distant second to the characters’ relationships.  Tita is a precocious seven-year-old who is greatly interested in the workings of the adult mind and the way the social world works.  Fortunately for the reader, while Tita is precocious, she manages to be so without the usual irritiating attitude that goes along with it – in a sense, Tita knows how much she doesn’t know and is perfectly happy to annunciate the gaps in her knowledge in order to fill them.  Our fleshlings happen to be Catholic, so the references to Catholicism and its traditions and Tita’s schooling were both familiar and amusing.  If you don’t know much about Catholicism, I’m not sure how you’ll take those passages – hopefully they’ll give a good measurement on the ole’ odd-ometer.

I can best describe this book as charming.  Tita is a sensitive and astute narrator and the reader is left to ponder her observations, particularly those relating to the relationship between her father and mother, from an adult perspective.  I very much appreciated the introduction to French culture and language that I received in reading this book – I have always considered it a particular failing that of the many languages that I have studied, French was (and is) conspicuously absent.  Houzelle has redressed this to some extent, as the French language and its influence are threaded through almost every scene in this book.  There’s also a little glossary at the back, so non-French-speakers can better understand particular phrases or references.

This is a gentle read, where events move at the pace of a Sunday morning breakfast and I suggest that’s exactly the sort of feeling you should bring when embarking on Tita’s journey of musing.

Au revoir mes chers,

Mad Martha

 

Ghost Moon Night: A Spooky, Accursed YA Read-it-if Review…

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Happy Friday to you all! Today I have an engaging little offering that I snatched up with pleasure from Kathy at I Am A Reader, Not A Writer, through her new website Ebooks for Review.  If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a nifty little idea that connects authors seeking reviews with readers who might be looking for a new book.  You don’t have to be a blogger to apply to read and review a book – you simply have to have an account on a social media site that welcomes book reviews – Goodreads, Librarything, whatever – and be willing to post a review after you’ve read the book. Simple and brilliant for those who want to get free books and don’t have a blog.  But I digress.

Ghost Moon Night by Jewel Allen is an atmospheric and unusual tale of a village suffering from a long-ago curse, set in the Philippines.  It was entirely not what I expected, but I actually enjoyed it more because of that. So let’s dive in.  Lanterns at the ready? Windows boarded and barred? Sitting comfortably as the undead rage and screech in the night? Then we’ll begin.

Seventeen-year-old Anotonio Pulido is just about to finish high school – the first in his family to do so.  His father wants him to help on the family farm, but Anotonio doesn’t want to be tied to his home when his best friend Jose gets to go to Manila on a basketball scholarship.  When a new priest arrives in the village, Anotonio is sent to escort him to the parish house…and inform him about one of the village’s more unusual events – Ghost Moon Night.  For one night each month, on the new moon, Dasalin village is besieged by creatures from beyond the grave, the langbaun, or flying undead.  Unless the villagers are safe behind locked doors and barred windows, they risk being torn apart or taken by the langbaun, and becoming langbaun themselves.  As Antonio and Father Sebastian are drawn deeper into the terrors of Ghost Moon Night, Anotonio knows that he must face down the langbaun once and for all, or die in the attempt.

ghost moon nightRead it if:

* you’ve ever wondered whether that deceased person you wronged long ago was truly dead…or just waiting for a new moon to turn up at your window, dessicated wings a-flutter and bony claws outstretched

* you’re consider yourself to be a person who honours their commitments…including grudges…and won’t let a little thing like death put you off hassling the person who wronged you

* you’ve ever been stuck a long way from home as night falls, wishing an empty taxi would turn up to ferry you to safety

* you’ve ever repeatedly made a fool of yourself in front of someone you really like
If you’re hoping for a creepy, flying zombie type of horror story then you’ll get what you are looking for from Ghost Moon Night.  If, however, you are looking for a reasonably complex coming-of-age tale that links spirituality, family expectations and choices to be made that will determine one’s character, then you’re in luck – because you’ll also find what you are looking for in Ghost Moon Night!  When I read the blurb of this book, I expected a fast-paced paranormal aventure with a bit of humour thrown in.  I certainly got that, but a whole lot more as well.

Allen has managed to create what is essentially a tale about a young man trying to find his place in a village where everyone has known him, and his family, since … well, since forever.  Punctuating Antonio’s very ordinary travails in finding a job, being a good son and all the rest of it are some genuinely creepy action scenes featuring flying zombies (some of whom are people that until very recently, lived in the village with Antonio!) with an abiding desire to tear flesh from bones.  So instead of just being a zombie, scary book, this is a strange yet satisfying tale with a lot to offer the reader of straight – as in, not paranormal or fantasy – YA fiction.

The Filippino setting and the background themes of religion and cultural tradition running through the book also provide a point of difference for anyone looking for a YA read that isn’t your standard, set-in-a-big-city, sort of a story.  There are lots of Tagalog words and phrases thrown in to keep the reader’s mind working and a glossary of these is included at the back of the book, although most are explained incidentally during the story, so there’s no need to panic if you aren’t a native speaker of Tagalog!

I ended up enjoying this story very much, as much for its sensitive and realistic portrayal of a young man trying to do the best he can and please the people who are important to him as for the freaky langbaun, who have shot up to near the top of my list of “creepiest fictional/mythical monsters”.  Definitely give this one a go if you’re looking for something a little bit different and out of the ordinary in the paranormal department.

Until next time,

Bruce