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

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A Quirky Take on Parental Frailty: Goodbye, Vitamin…

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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

 

Night Shift: After Dark in a Department Store…

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night shift ya

We received YA novel Night Shift by B. R. Meyers from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At Willard’s department store, none of the night security guards survive for long, and eighteen-year-old Daniel Gale is about to discover why.

Tired of living out of his backpack, he ignores the clerk’s gossip about the old building being haunted and accepts the latest vacated position of night guard. On his first shift Daniel narrowly escapes a fatal fall down an elevator shaft and is rescued by Mary—a bossy and intriguing girl far too beautiful for after hours inventory.

Anticipating every night shift as a chance to be with her, Daniel thinks his traveling days are over hoping that Manhattan is the place to call home. But as his life becomes more entwined with Willard’s, Daniel senses unnatural changes and bizarre coincidences both with Mary and the store itself. Soon he begins to suspect Willard’s is hiding something more sinister than gossip about ghosts—something that could make him the next casualty of the NIGHT SHIFT.

I was really in the mood for some creepy, atmospheric horror – or at least paranormal – when I requested Night Shift and while there are some aspects of the story that I praise for being original and unexpected, this wasn’t atmospheric or paranormal in the slightest.  Daniel is a solid protagonist around which to build a narrative – he has a fascinating past, he seems like a reliable narrator and generally I wanted him to succeed against whatever foes were lurking in the dark of Willard’s.  In the interests of an exciting story, I also wanted him to have the absolute willies scared out of him at least once…and preferably multiple times…during the story so that I could live vicariously through him.

This isn’t that kind of book.  It’s not a ghost story in the typical sense of the word (or even at all) and while it does have a fantastic twist that I didn’t see coming – but admittedly, probably should have, if I’d used my puzzling-things-out brain (more about this later)- there is far too much in-between filler that sucks the suspense out of the story quicker than a recently serviced Dyson cyclonic.  I felt like this book was at least a third longer than it needed to be and this is chiefly due to whacking great chunks of dialogue that doesn’t progress the story, but exists, it seems, to develop character relationships that I felt were already quite solid.

The stringing out of the mystery went for so long that I very nearly put the book down before the twist had even happened.  As I stumbled across the twist in the mystery, I wsa surprised enough to emit a little “Oh!” and quickly flick on in the hopes that the suspense and excitement would ramp up.  Unfortunately, the author took the route of stretching things out to the extent that by the end I didn’t really care about the whys of the plot and just wanted it all to be over.

Admittedly, there is a full and developed story toward the end of the book that links Daniel’s past to his present situation and provides some feel-good moments and action scenes, but by then it was too late to salvage my interest.  There are plenty of interesting and original things going on in Night Shift but because the first part of the book is so focused on ghosts, I had certain expectations of what the story was going to be about.  The twist provided a momentary respite from those dashed expectations, and the thought that maybe there was going to be a more original take on the ghost gossip, but I just couldn’t seem to get past my pre-conceived ideas of what the book was going to be in order to fully enjoy what it is.  Night Shift turned out to be more focused on relationship building and romance than the paranormal/magical realism elements, and as regular readers of this blog know, I’m a sucker for the latter.

If you are looking for a story that is high on romance and budding relationships featuring an unexpected couple, you will probably find something to enjoy in Night Shift.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Three for A New Year

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For the second day of the new year, I present to you an overload of books.  Well, not an overload, but given that it’s only day two of 2017 and I have three books for you, less voracious readers than ourselves may consider it a bit excessive.  I have a YA contemporary set in Paris, a middle grade series continuation and a middle grade fantasy adventure about identity and chocolate.  So for the first time in 2017, let’s saddle up and ride on in!

Lisette’s Paris Notebook (Catherine Bateson)

*We received a copy of Lisette’s Paris Notebook from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

lisettes-paris-notebook

Lisette’s Paris Notebook by Catherine Bateson.  Published by Allen & Unwin, January 3rd, 2017.  RRP: $16.99

Lisette (Lise) is taking a gap year in Paris and staying with her mother’s friend, a clairvoyant. While in Paris she meets some interesting people through her imposed French language class.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you’re in the mood for a languid yet exotic holiday that evokes feelings of romance, European style and new experiences, but don’t have the money to afford such a holiday, Lisette’s Paris Notebook could be the next best thing.  Lise is young, ready for adventure and raring to stamp her own style on the world’s capital of haute couture and finds herself cramped in a tiny bedsit above a clairvoyant’s storefront.  While Paris doesn’t immediately turn out to be what she expected, Lise nevertheless commits to attending a French language class as a small concession to her mother’s dreams for her.  The class is filled with college-aged art students from around the world and Lise is both attracted to and intimidated by the easy style and sophistication of her classmates.  I will admit to DNFing this one about halfway through, at 144 pages – chapter 14 – not because the story was bad, but because I just don’t think I’m the intended audience for the book, not being a massive contemporary fan.   The only thing that had me cringing a bit was the fact that all the French characters that I encountered seemed to be weirdly stereotyped – abrupt to the point of rudeness, dismissive of other cultures or ways of doing things and set in their ideas about what one should do in France.  I’m not entirely sure what that was about, or whether it changes later on in the book, but I found it set my teeth on edge a bit.  Ardent fans of contemporary YA, and especially YA that borders on new adult and features coming-of-age issues and themes of identity should find lots to enjoy here.  The tone is light, there are some funny situations and generally this fits the bill as a relaxing, escapist holiday read.

Brand it with:

Enchante!; new adventures; fun with fashion

The Thornthwaite Betrayal (Gareth P. Jones)

*We received a copy of The Thornthwaite Betrayal from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

thornthwaite-betrayal

The Thornthwaite Betrayal by Gareth P. Jones.  Published by Allen & Unwin, January 3rd, 2017.  RRP: $16.99

Siblings who have previously enjoyed plotting each other’s demise have called a truce, when a long lost uncle turns up to make a claim on their ancestral home.  Mistrust ensues, as well as some new found interest in friendship with others, on the part of the twins.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is the second book following on from The Thornthwaite Inheritance, in which Ovid and Lorelli Thornthwaite enjoy attempting to kill each other – must be a twin thing – and their manor ends up being burnt down.  Unfortunately, I have not read the previous book, even though it’s been on my TBR list for quite some time, and it is this single factor that led to my putting down The Thornthwaite Betrayal after 44 pages. I’m generally a fan of Jones’ work – Constable and Toop and Death by Ice Cream being two of his back catalogue that I thoroughly enjoyed – but found this one hard to get into simply because I didn’t have the context of the previous book to draw on.  Some of the characters in this second book obviously made an appearance in the previous one, and some characters from the previous book are mentioned, but I really needed a bit more background information to get a picture of what exactly was going on and how the characters were linked.  Also, given that the thing that would draw me in most about these books is the idea of murderous twins, the fact that the twins weren’t being particularly murderous in the part of this I read meant that some of the expected shine was missing.  I will have to go back and read the first story before I can make proper comment on this one, I think.

Brand it with:

It’s a twin thing; long lost relatives; personal growth

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (Stephanie Burgis)

*We received a copy of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart from Bloomsbury Publishing via Netgalley for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  dragon-with-a-chocolate-heart

A dragon ventures out of her cave to show her parents she can make it on her own and ends up inadvertently being turned into a human. She then does what any spell-cursed dragon would do: become an apprentice to a chocolatier.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you are looking for a fantasy tale that has an original premise and is guaranteed to appeal to any foodie fans in your life, this is the book for you!  The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart blends a dragon dynasty with a nasty spell, a class-based society and business competition to create a completely new storyline in middle grade fantasy reads.  Aventurine is a dragon who inadvertently falls under the spell of a food mage and is trapped in a human body.  After tasting chocolate for the first time, the determined girl (ex-dragon!) decides that if she must be trapped in a puny human body, the least she can do is apprentice herself to a chocolatier and learn the finer arts of creating her new favourite food.  The “dragon” part of the story takes a bit of a backseat during this time as Aventurine learns to navigate the human world and its unfamiliar trappings – two of which being human friendships and social interactions – until her family turns up wanting their darling dragon back and Aventurine’s temporary home is in the firing line.  While the story is undoubtedly fresh and original, my overall feeling while reading was that this is a strange sort of tale that can’t quite decide whether it should be a fish-out-of-water fantasy or a being-true-to-oneself friendship story.  While Aventurine is human, the very human experiences of friendship, betrayal, manipulation and position in society play a major role, and even if Aventurine herself never forgot her inner-dragonness, I certainly did at some points during the book, which meant that the story didn’t reach the heights of brilliance for me at any stage.  Nevertheless, I always welcome fresh takes on familiar tropes in middle grade fiction and Burgis has certainly delivered on that score.

Brand it with:

Feral foodies; master’s apprentices; fish out of water

Two days into the new year and three new books for you to hunt down: surely one of these titles takes your fancy?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

A Mini DNF-a-Thon: DNFs with Potential…

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I have had a mini-swathe of DNFed books of late so I thought I’d share them here in case there are any of you whose interest is piqued by their content.  I hasten to add that none of the following books is bad in any major way, but they just didn’t really suit my tastes or my mindset at the time of reading, possibly because two out of three of them came unsolicited from the publishers. Here we go then.

The Diabolic (S. J. Kincaid)

*We received this one from Simon & Schuster for review * 

Categories: YA, science fiction, speculative fiction, playing politics, survival the-diabolic

DNF’ed at: page 77

Comments:

This one was sent unsolicited (ie: I didn’t request it) for review, so I wasn’t initially sure what I was getting into.  I was actually quite engaged during the first section of the book, but as soon as Nemesis got on the ship to head off to intergalactic court to impersonate her mistress, I lost interest.  This book is getting absolute rave reviews all over the place though, and my loss of interest may have had more to do with being too busy to focus on it, rather than the book suddenly becoming uninteresting.  I may well pick this one up again in the future and would recommend it to fans of sci-fi or YA that isn’t set in your typical fantasy or contemporary worlds.


The Fifth Avenue Artists Society (Joy Callaway)

*We were sent this one for review from Allen & Unwin*

Categories: Adult fiction, historical fiction, period romance  fifth-avenue-artists-society

DNF’ed at: page 36

Comments:

This one was also unsolicited, but I like a good period piece as much as the next gargoyle so I thought I’d give it a crack.  I could have probably found myself enjoying this if I didn’t have a whole bunch of books lying around waiting to be read, honestly, but overall this one was a bit too out-of-period for me.  I prefer my historical fiction from this era to be British rather than American.  There were a few turns of phrase in the dialogue and in the general writing that hit me as slightly out of place, but again, if I was an ordinary reader who read one book at a time, I may have found more to enjoy here.  This one is a victim of just not being my thing.  But it might be yours!


The Amateurs (Sarah Shepard)

*We received this one from Allen & Unwin for review*

Categories: YA, murder mystery the-amateurs

DNF’ed at: chapter ten

Comments:

This was a definite fail for me.  I was excited to read it because it features a group of amateur sleuths who chat online and try to solve cold cases.  Just my thing, I thought!  Unfortunately, the author insists on going off at annoying tangents by having her characters constantly reflect inwardly about various peoples’ hotness and whether they should really be hanging out with this person or encouraging advances from that person’s running coach, ad nauseum. I just wanted to know about the murder mystery, kids – save your adolescent angst for a romance book!  While I really did want to know who murdered Helena Kelly, I wasn’t prepared to wade through a bunch of cliched tripe-filled characters to find out.  Shame really.


Have you read any of these?  What did you think?

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Enticing YA” Edition…

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If you are fan of young adult literature, be it quirky-cute romance, gripping historical fiction, paranormal menace or angsty growing-up tale, you will no doubt want to saddle up and ride with us today.  I have four enticing YA titles for you, each with its own niche audience, so scroll on down and see what you can round up!

Hotel for the Lost (Suzanne Young)

*We received a copy of Hotel for the Lost from Simon & Schuster Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  hotel-for-the-lost

Audrey and her brother Daniel are being driven to their grandmother’s house, to take a break after their mother’s untimely death three months earlier. After stopping for the night at a hotel, the family dynamic seems more functional…but that’s only the first of a lot of strange things that are going on at the Hotel Ruby.

Muster up the motivation because…

…There’s a lot of ghosty goodness going on in this one that will have you guessing ahead to try and figure out the mystery before the big reveal.  I happened to be reading this one around Halloween time and it was charmingly atmospheric, what with its big gothic hotel in a lonely setting, odd nightly parties and collection of delightfully (and in some cases, creepily) bizarre guests.  Audrey is stuck down a well of grief and guilt since her mother’s death, while her brother Daniel is surly and their father seems to have mentally checked out.  On arrival  at the Ruby, things start looking up, but it isn’t long before Audrey starts to notice cracks in the hotel’s posh facade, not least of which being the overlord-like attitude of the concierge.  As Audrey meets more guests and her father becomes more and more plugged in to the family, Audrey decides that things might be looking up and it won’t be so hard to hang out for a few days until the family checks out, despite a few hard-to-explain incidents.  As ghostly, paranormal stories go, this one has plenty of threads to both entice and confuse the reader, with clues about the mystery dropped left, right and centre: there’s the mystery of the invitation-only nightly party, the tragic history of the building, the gossip about some of the guests and the strange flashes of vision that Audrey is experiencing.  I know I was hurriedly trying to piece together the tidbits of information in order to figure out what was going on before the reveal.  I suspect that experienced readers of paranormal stories will pick the obvious signs early on, but there were definitely a few aspects of the reveal that I did not see coming.  I was quite impressed with the ending that Young chose to go with here, because it is a bit more ambiguous and dark than I would have expected.  Overall, this was a fun read, albeit a tad predictable in places, that will satisfy those looking for an atmospheric story that will give a whole new meaning to the term “life of the party”.

Brand it with:

Complimentary late check-out; all in the family; what goes on below stairs

The Graces (Laure Eve)

*We received a copy of The Graces from Allen & Unwin for review*

the-graces

The Graces by Laure Eve. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016. RRP: $19.99

Two Sentence Synopsis: 

River is starting afresh at a new school and like everyone else, is drawn to the Grace siblings like a moth to a flame. When River manages to form a friendship with Summer Grace, her life becomes all that she wants it to be…but are the rumours of a Grace curse true?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a deep exploration of identity, loyalty, belonging and exerting one’s power in the fraught social world of the teenage years.  I didn’t think that I would be pulled in to The Graces as much as I was, but I was quickly won over by the focus on character development and the ways in which people will lie, keep secrets and remake themselves in order to fit in.  Everyone in River’s town believe that the Grace family are witches.  The three Grace siblings – twins, Fenrin and Tahlia, and younger sister Summer – float through school untouched by the problems of the common people, despite rumours of revenge and trouble that may have been dished out to those who defied the Graces in the past.  River, desperate to remake herself in this new environment, is somehow able to find her way into Summer’s good graces, and from there into the Grace family itself.  What she discovers is a tight-knit, exclusionary, possibly paranoid vision of their place in the world – a place she wants to share.  For the most part, this story is one firmly grounded in human relationships – parents exerting their will (and fears) on children, sibling loyalty, friendship defined by secrecy – but towards the end, a more obvious element of fantasy emerges.  I was slightly disappointed by this, because I thought that the character development and psychological twisting and turning between the Grace siblings and River was compelling enough that the story didn’t need any fantastical trappings.  Also, the fantasy element shows the story up as a series-opener, which heightened my disappointment.  I felt that this story had everything it needed to pack a memorable and thought-provoking punch contained within its pages, without having to add anything other-wordly to the story, and I don’t want to see that watered down by a focus in the next book on fantasy, rather than human nature.  Despite that little niggle at the end, I can heartily recommend this to readers of YA who are looking for an examination of human relationships and the price one might be willing to pay in order to be included.

Brand it with:

One of us; On the outer; Believing the rumours

The Lie Tree: Illustrated Edition (Frances Hardinge & Chris Riddell)

*We received a copy of The Lie Tree from PanMacmillan Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the-lie-tree

Faith yearns to take a place alongside her famous scientist father, but is constrained by the social restrictions imposed on women of her time. When the family moves to an island to escape a scandal, Faith takes her chance to assume the mantle of natural scientist over a very strange plant indeed – and finds herself embroiled in a mystery that challenges all the assumptions that her father held dear.

Muster up the motivation because…

…Frances Hardinge is a class apart when it comes to writing for young people.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that her books aren’t really young people’s books at all, but adult-reader-worthy books that happen to feature young protagonists.  Having read plenty of Hardinge’s work before, I knew pretty well what I was in for with The Lie Tree, and that was exactly what I got: absorbing, evocative prose, strong female characters with obvious, yet useful flaws, plot twists, and an atmosphere that perfectly reflected the oppressive situation in which the protagonist finds herself.  Faith is the eldest daughter of an (until-recently) esteemed natural scientist, who finds herself and her family spirited away to a remote island to avoid a scandal related to her father’s work.  After uncovering some of her father’s secrets through slyness and stealth, Faith is presented with an opportunity to observe a mythical plant whose discovery could change the world.  The story, like much of Hardinge’s work, unfolds slowly, with important information drip-fed to the reader.  The historical setting of this particular tale added a great deal to the atmosphere, as did the focus on gender-based restrictions that require Faith to undertake much of her investigation covertly.  This book really is absorbing, playing on ideas about the power of suggestion to create fear and generate a social environment which, already enmeshed in class-based strata and strict observance of propriety, is ripe for the dissemination of falsehood as truth, and opinion as fact.  I received the illustrated edition of the book to review, with illustrations completed by (who other than) Chris Riddell, yet I found that the illustrations didn’t add a great deal to my experience of the book.  Obviously, the illustrations are gorgeous and I enjoyed flicking across a full page line drawing every now and then in such a long book, but the narrative carries itself here, with Hardinge’s narrative imagery working its own magic.  Riddell’s illustrative style is particularly suited to the dour, historical atmosphere of the story however and admittedly, it was fun to see the portrayals of characters whose physical features are as unflattering as their personalities. I would definitely recommend The Lie Tree to those who are already fans of Hardinge’s work, featuring as it does a similar dark and foreboding atmosphere as her recent publications, Cuckoo Song and A Face Like Glass. If you are a fan of historical fiction that carries a touch of the subversive, and are looking for a good mystery with a slightly magical twist, then you will find plenty to entice you with The Lie Tree.

Brand it with:

Keeping one’s enemies close; the stealth-inducing properties of crepe; born to be wild

The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily (Rachel Cohn & David Levithan)

* We received a copy of The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

The Twelve Days of Dash and Llily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016.  RRP: $19.99

The Twelve Days of Dash and Llily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016. RRP: $19.99

Dash is concerned about his relationship with Lily, while Lily is depressed about her grandfather, Christmas and her relationship with Dash. Dash decides to break with tradition and surprise Lily with twelve days of happiness before Christmas to try and get their mutual groove back.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you were a fan of the first book in this series (which I have not read), you will no doubt go ga-ga for this charming, festive offering.  I really wanted to like this one, not least because of the delightful, quirky cover design, but I ended up DNFing at 68 pages.  Romance and romantic relationships are just not my thing in fiction, but I can see why there was so much buzz about the first book in the series.  The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Dash and Lily.  Dash opened this book, and I quickly found his self-deprecating dry humour quite disarming.  I thought that I might actually find myself falling for a romance book!  Then Lily took the helm and I just found her a bit too sheltered for my liking.  When you are nearly 18 and can’t get over the fact that you don’t feel all that Christmassy at Christmas, I think you need to step out of your #firstworldproblems for a moment and appreciate what you’ve got.  I did make the decision to put the book down during one of Lily’s sections, mostly because I didn’t think I could handle reading about such a young-seeming character as an adult reader.  I can certainly see the appeal of the book and the series however and should warn you not to let my curmudgeonly attitude toward unspoiled, innocent souls put you off reading it if you are in the mood for a Christmassy, feelgood story.

Brand it with:

Christmas knits; holiday romance; Dash-ing through the not-snow

Surely there is something amongst these offerings to ignite the YA gleam in your eye and have you rushing out to muster up one of these titles!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

A Love-Note to Secondhand Bookshops…and a Fi50 Reminder…

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imageBefore we crack on with an OzYA ode to bookstores and bookishness, allow me to gently remind you that Fiction in 50 for August kicks off on Monday with the prompt…

squeaky wheel

To participate, just create a piece of prose or poetry in fewer than 51 words, post it somewhere and then link it up to the linky in my post on Monday.  For more information on how to play and for future prompts, just click here.


words in deep blue

Today’s book is a bit of an unusual choice for we shelf denizens, given its high lovey-dovey content, but we absolutely enjoyed diving into its unusual format and premise.  We received Words in Deep Blue by Cat Crowley from the publisher via Netgalley and here is the blurb from Goodreads:

This is a love story.
It’s the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets.
It’s the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea.
Now, she’s back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal and looking for the future in the books people love, and the words they leave behind.

You would be forgiven for assuming that a first-line like that one would cause me to immediately roll my eyes, gnash my teeth and run in the opposite direction, but I will admit to being caught by the second line.  The reference to readers writing letters drew me in and I’m glad it did because this really is a coming-of-age story worth getting stuck in to.

The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Rachel and Henry, ex-best friends who have drifted apart amidst deliberation (Rachel) and confusion (Henry).  Rachel has spent a recent stint away from the town in which she and Henry grew up, nursing grief for the sudden death of her brother and enmity towards Henry, for falling in love with a someone who isn’t Rachel.  Henry, meanwhile, has remained working at his parents’ quirky, failing secondhand bookstore, Howling Books, being tossed on the winds of love by his on-again, off-again girlfriend Amy, and wondering why Rachel is shunning him so completely.  In an unexpected turn of events, Rachel finds herself back in her home town and back facing Henry over a gulf of grief that she can’t put into words.  Henry finds Rachel just as Amy seems to have finally called it quits for good, and his parents mull over whether or not to sell their beloved bookstore, and with it, it would seem, the family’s one safe port in a stormy world.

There’s a real sense of warmth and innocence underpinning Henry’s parts of the novel.  While obviously a bit of a homebody who still needs the security of family and stability, Henry is thrust into some major life changes that are out of his control.  Rachel on the other hand, is prickly, standoffish, and bizarrely protective of her grief, to the point that she won’t reveal the fact of her brother’s recent death to anyone from her hometown.  Both the main characters (and all the others!) are gently flawed and I found a great appeal in seeing how they slowly move toward embracing or rejecting the new opportunities opening up.

The most fantastic non-human character in the story is, of course, Henry’s family’s bookstore, Howling Books.  The descriptions of it make it sound like the most comfortable, lived-in (both figuratively and literally), enticing little book nook that could ever be, and so the thought of losing it struck me almost as hard as it strikes Henry.  I absolutely adored the idea of the Letter Library – a section in the shop where customers can write letters to friends, lovers, strangers – whoever! – and leave them to be found within the pages of the Letter Library tomes.  There is a clever sub-plot relating to Henry’s sister George that utilises this method, and other characters’ stories are fleshed out through glimpses into the letters left within the pages of the books.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who loves books about bookshops, readers and literature changing lives.  The romance stuff isn’t rammed down your throat, even though it is a main focus of the book, because it feels like an authentic coming-of-age tale rather than a typical YA love triangle type story.  Despite the difficult themes of grief and growing up within the book there is an undeniable charm and geniality that exudes, I suspect, mostly from Howling Books, and keeps the overall reading experience buoyant.  I will think back on this one with fondness and make the startling (for me!) claim that if you only read one book featuring broken hearts this year, you could do a damn sight worse than this one.

Until next time,

Bruce