Tomes From the Olden Times: The Boyfriend…

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Today’s Tomes from the Olden Times is really a TBR Friday post in disguise because I plucked The Boyfriend by R. L. Stine right off my TBR shelf after having had it sit there for an indeterminate amount of time (more than one year but less than three).  I can’t even remember exactly where I got it from, save that it is a second hand copy – it either came from a jaunt to the Lifeline Bookfest or from the Library cast-off shop at Nundah.

Even though this is a Tomes from the Olden Times post – the book having been originally published in 1990 as part of the Point Horror series of YA books – I’m not entirely sure, even after reading it, whether or not I did actually read this one way back when.  I certainly read others of the series, Beach Party,  along with Beach House, being two I am 100% certain I read, while the covers of Hit and Run, The Baby Sitter and April Fools all look very familiar and were no doubt passed around the class during the height of the horror-reading frenzy of ages past.

Anyway, back to The Boyfriend.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Sometimes, love is murder.

Too bad about Dex. He was in love with Joanna. She broke up with him. And then he died.

Joanna’s sorry, of course. But it’s not her fault he’s dead, is it? Besides, she never loved him. Boys are just toys, to be used and thrown away.

But this time, Joanna’s gone too far. Because Dex is back. From the dead. For one last date with her….

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Now doesn’t that bring back memories of flimsy paperbacks with tiny print?  This story turned out to be exactly what you probably think it would be judging by the cover and blurb.  I still can’t figure out whether or not I read it all those years ago, but on the whole I think I must have because I remember the name Shep as well, bizarrely, as the scenes featuring Joanna practicing with her tennis coaches.  I could not, however, remember any of the “horror” elements.

This is probably a good thing, because they weren’t all that horrifying really.  I remember being irrationally terrified of the events of Beach House back as a young gargoyle, but I can’t imagine that this one ever scared me that much, if in fact I did read it as a youngster.  If you picture all those celluloid teen slasher films like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream, than you’ll have a pretty good idea how this story turns out, although there is a lot less violence, which surprised me.

Joanna is a right piece of work – selfish, horrid to her mother and generally a bad seed – and she discovers toward the end that the undead appreciate a little acknowledgement during their living years, otherwise they might just come back with a vengeance.

The best thing I can say about this one is that it was a quick read.  Nothing particularly unexpected happens, there are no shocking horror bits and generally this can be considered a fun, no-brainer of a read for when you want to escape.

I’d love to get hold of Beach House again though and see if it actually is scary.  Even a little bit!

Did you read any of these books as a youngster?  What did you think of them?

I’m submitting The Boyfriend for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2017.  You can check out my progress toward my challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Scaling Mount TBR: My Name is Leon

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This one may have only been on my TBR list for six months, but by gum it feels good to knock it over anyway.  We received a copy of My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal from the publisher via Netgalley, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A brother chosen. A brother left behind. And the only way home is to find him.

Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas. But the adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing Pretend faces. They are threatening to take Jake away and give him to strangers. Because Jake is white and Leon is not.

As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile – like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum.

Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name is Leon is a story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how – just when we least expect it – we somehow manage to find our way home.

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There is a certain charm to books for adults that feature a child protagonist and My Name is Leon certainly exhibits that charm throughout.  Leon is an immediately likable lad, with his fierce loyalty to his mother despite her obvious flaws and unfathomable depth of love for his baby brother Jake.  His foster carers, Maureen and then Sylvia, are also lovable in different ways, while the folk from the allotment grow on the reader with every interaction.  The laid-back but determined Tufty steps in as a replacement father figure for Leon in some ways and while Mr Devlin has a few odd behaviours on the outside, he proves himself to be one who can be counted on in a pinch.

The main focus of the story of course, is Leon’s up-and-down life as he bounces between foster homes, loses his brother to adoption and waits for his mother to get his act together.  This alone would have been a rich vein to mine, but de Waal has also included a sideplot about race riots that, while relevant to Leon and his situation, seemed slightly out of place with the tone of the rest of the story.  Having said that, it does provide a rather exciting end to what could have otherwise been a reasonably predictable story arc!  I would have liked to see a bit of information about this part of the story in an author’s note – were the events based on actual events, and if so, where and when and in what social context did these happen?  If not, why were they included?

Overall, this is an uplifting story that shows the reality of many foster children’s lives today, even though it is set in the 1980s.  The story did feel a bit hefty at times, particularly in the middle, as Leon is developing his relationship with the folk of the allotments, but the richness of the relationships developed between the characters is a satisfying pay-off for this.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding

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It’s our final Monday Murder for the year, so I thought I’d go a bit festive and bring you Agatha Christie’s The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, a collection of six short stories with all but one featuring Poirot.  The odd one out features Miss Marple in a remarkably brief appearance.  The book also has a foreword by Agatha Christie, which I found delightful, recounting, as it does, Christie’s memories of Christmas time as a youngster.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Agatha Christie’s seasonal Poirot and Marple short story collection.

First came a sinister warning to Poirot not to eat any plum pudding… then the discovery of a corpse in a chest… next, an overheard quarrel that led to murder… the strange case of the dead man who altered his eating habits… and the puzzle of the victim who dreamt his own suicide.

What links these five baffling cases? The little grey cells of Monsieur Hercule Poirot!

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Plot Summary:

The six stories contained herein are the titular Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, The Mystery of the Spanish Chest, The Under Dog, Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds, The Dream and Greenshaw’s Folly (which features Miss Marple).  All but the first feature murders being solved ingeniously by either Poirot or Marple.  The first story, however, is about the theft of a priceless jewel.  

The Usual Suspects:

As there are so many different stories here, I can’t really go into detail about the suspects, but you can rest assured that the stories include all the old favourites, from long lost brothers returned from the African continent, to people pretending to be someone else, to people in disguise, to people hoping to inherit the murdered person’s worldly goods.  

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Once again, specific details vary, but for the Poirot stories, our favourite Belgian is generally called in by the police or an interested party, does his questioning bit, and then casually reveals the killer before the story abruptly finishes.  Similarly, in Greenshaw’s Folly, Miss Marple only experiences proceedings second-hand, yet still manages to pick motive, method and murderer, having never laid eyes on the scene or the players.

 

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the cheery thought of a traditional Christmas party peopled by thieves and murderers.

It’s been a while since I read a Christie mystery so it was jolly good fun to jump back in with Poirot and Miss Marple and kick around some theories about who done it.  I really enjoyed the fact that these were short stories too, because I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with end of year busyness just now and the short tales meant that I didn’t have to remember names and roles across a whole novel.  I did get close to the answers in a number of the stories, guessing part, if not the whole solution, which is always satisfying and cause for a smug internal smile.  I also found it interesting that the TV adaption of Greenshaw’s Folly that I saw earlier this year (or it could have even been last year) was much more in depth than the story here.  It’s put me in just the right frame of mind to gear up for the The Murder of Roger Ackroyd that gets shown on telly here every Christmas Eve (or maybe the day before Christmas Eve).  I’d definitely recommend this if you’re looking for a mildly festive foray into murder in short, easily-digestible chunks.

Finishing this book is especially satisfying because I pulled it from my TBR shelf and so….that’s another chink from Mt TBR!

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Until next time,

Bruce

Mount TBR Challenge 2017: I’m Climbing On Again!

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Even though I only discovered this challenge this year, I have found it so useful that I’m hopping on board again for 2017.  Bev at My Reader’s Block is a challenge queen and hosts this one yearly to get people motivated to start tackling their ever-growing TBR piles.  This year I signed up at the lowest level, Pike’s Peak, or 12 books and I have just recently achieved it, with a few extras added to the tally by the end of the year hopefully.  If you are interested in the challenge, just click on the image above to be taken to the sign up page, where you can find all the information about rules and restrictions and, most importantly, challenge levels.

I have decided in 2017 that I am going to once again attempt the lowest level of Pike’s Peak.  Twelve books was manageable this year, and I think committing to one book a month isn’t so daunting that I’ll feel too much pressure, but will nonetheless make a dint in my TBR stack.  I’m actually so motivated to keep at this challenge that I’ve already chosen the twelve books I’d like to tackle!

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They are, in no particular order…

The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham

A middle grade fantasy romp that I wanted to read for ages, so decided to chuck it in with a laybuy I was putting on at Big W.  I really wanted the edition with the prettier cover, but I saw my chance to own it and took it.

The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

A middle grade historical mystery that came out slightly after the first book in the Wells & Wong series by Robin Stevens.  I finally scored this one as a birthday gift, but haven’t got to it yet.

Takeshita Demons by Cristy Burne

A middle grade yokai story.  I stumbled across the first three books in this series at the Library cast-off book shop and picked them up because I just couldn’t walk past any book featuring Japanese ghosties.  I’ve been desperately wanting to have at this series, so I’m making the time in 2017. Hopefully I’ll finish the three books I’ve got, not just this first one.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

A middle grade mystery featuring smugglers!  I first put this on pre-order back in mid 2014, when it was originally released.  I put the pre-order on the paperback, which was releasing in the middle of 2015.  I figured I could wait that long.  Then the release date got pushed out to September of 2015.  I was tetchy, but accepted this.  THEN the release date got pushed out to September 2016!  Needless to say, I was cheesed.  It finally arrived last month, so since I’ve been waiting on it so long, it’s going in the challenge.  It has since won some awards though, so it should be worth the wait.

Home to Mother by Doris Pilkington

This is the children’s edition of the story of Australia’s Stolen Generations, immortalised in the book and film Rabbit-Proof Fence.  I spotted this one in an op-shop last week and snapped it up.

Beastly Bones (Jackaby #2) by William Ritter

This is the second book in the Jackaby fantasy mystery series.  I pre-ordered this one a while back, since I enjoyed the first book.  My anticipation has waned somewhat during the wait (and I think the third book is out now too), but if I don’t add this one to the challenge, it may continue to be overlooked.

Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar

I’ve heard so many wonderful things about Sideways Stories from Wayside School from so many different bloggers that when I saw this one at the Library cast-off bookshop I snapped it up.  Louis Sachar is always a fun read, so I don’t think I can go too far wrong here.

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant

I bought this one from the BD when I was in need of some bookish retail therapy.  Just haven’t got around to it yet.

Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami

I had seen this little early middle grade title on a couple of “recommended” lists and then it popped up at Booktopia for two bucks or some other ridiculously cheap price so I had to have it.  I initially thought this was set in Japan, but on closer inspection, it’s actually India.  Not sure how I made that error, given the author’s obviously Indian (and super awesome!) surname.

The Bromeliad by Terry Pratchet

This is the omnibus edition made up of Truckers, Diggers and Wings.  I have read Terry Pratchet’s Discworld books before but never loved his work, but when I heard about this trilogy (maybe from SteJ at Book to the Future?) I thought I might investigate.  After reading a preview of the first chapter and finding myself guffawing after the first page, I decided I had to have it.

Henry and the Guardians of the Lost by Jenny Nimmo

We shelf denizens looooove Jenny Nimmo.  It started many years ago with the Snow Spider Trilogy, when we were fascinated by all things Welsh, and we have devoured a good section of her back catalogue since.  This one is a late 2016 release, so we grabbed it from the BD in one of those “retail therapy” moments.

The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack by Jen Storer

This is an Aussie middle grade fantasy/mythology tome that I had had my eye on since its release.  It came up in the bargain section of Booktopia ages ago and I grabbed it.  Having re-read the blurb, I noticed it’s by the same author as Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children which I found a bit tropey and pedestrian, but hopefully this one will be more up my street.

So there you have it!  My goals for TBR tackling for 2017.  A couple of these books are quite short, so I may be able to sneak in a few extras – I’ve got plenty to choose from! – but we’ll see how we go.

Are you participating in this challenge this year, or are you thinking about it for next year?  Have you read any of the books that I want to attempt?  Let me know!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Scaling Mount TBR: Working Stiff…

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Well, it’s hard to believe, but I’ve just ticked another book off my teetering TBR pile – hooray!  Today I present to you Working Stiff: Two Years, Nonfiction 2015262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek.  I grabbed this one on Kindle special when it was released and then put it off and put it off until I could put it off no more, and so here we are. As this is a memoir, I’m submitting it for the Non-fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader, hence the comfy armchair.

Let’s jump right on in – here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The fearless memoir of a young forensic pathologist’s rookie season as a NYC medical examiner, and the cases, hair-raising and heartbreaking and impossibly complex, that shaped her as both a physician and a mother.

Just two months before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Judy Melinek began her training as a New York City forensic pathologist. With her husband T.J. and their toddler Daniel holding down the home front, Judy threw herself into the fascinating world of death investigation, performing autopsies, investigating death scenes, counseling grieving relatives. Working Stiff chronicles Judy’s two years of training, taking readers behind the police tape of some of the most harrowing deaths in the Big Apple, including a firsthand account of the events of September 11, the subsequent anthrax bio-terrorism attack, and the disastrous crash of American Airlines flight 587.

Lively, action-packed, and loaded with mordant wit, Working Stiff offers a firsthand account of daily life in one of America’s most arduous professions, and the unexpected challenges of shuttling between the domains of the living and the dead. The body never lies, and through the murders, accidents, and suicides that land on her table, Dr. Melinek lays bare the truth behind the glamorized depictions of autopsy work on shows like CSI and Law and Order to reveal the secret story of the real morgue.

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So regular readers of this blog will know that this sort of book is right up my alley, given my intellectual interest in death and its accoutrements. I had heard great things about this book and was raring to get into it, and for the most part, it delivered on fascination and mystery. What I wasn’t quite prepared for (although why I wasn’t is anyone’s guess, given the subject matter) was the graphic detail with which Melinek approaches the oozing, splatting, deflating, bloating, leaking, mouldering and general squishery that goes hand in withered hand with the human body after death. Especially when you start chopping it up.

Be warned then, that there will be no sparing of the details for the sensitive reader. And rightly so, I suppose, although I did find myself doing some involuntary retching at a few points throughout.

The book is divided up into chapters that deal with different manners of death. The difference between the cause of death and manner of death is spelled out a number of times, as Melinek gets to grips with the paperwork side of the job. This is where the fascination factor is upped considerably as the author walks us through the variations of natural, accidental, homicidal and inconclusive causes of death. We are privy to the autopsies of those who have died from disease, through complications from surgery, gunshot wound, stabbing, burning, drowning, asphyxiation and even a few cases in which the deceased exited this world through no particular cause that the examiners could discern…..those that died of death, I suppose.

Along with all the interesting facts relating to how the examiners can determine different causes of death simply by examining the body (and testing various bits and pieces of it), I found it equally fascinating to find out the actual procedure of an autopsy and what the examiner does with all the body bits while the autopsy is going on. It boggles the mind.

Even though it is clearly stated in the blurb, for some reason I was utterly unprepared for the last section of the book, in which Melinek describes the day of the September 11 terrorist attacks and its aftermath for those involved in post-death services. I found this section to be harrowing, confronting, unsettling and generally unfathomable, as the sheer number of corpses to be identified and the unthinkable circumstances in which some of them came to be in their current condition was really driven home. This part of the book gave a whole new insight into the circumstances of those who work with death on a daily basis and how an unexpected mass casualty event can be chaos not only for those involved, but for those who must deal with the deceased under stressful and distressing circumstances. Hats off to anyone who has worked under such conditions, I say.

Overall I found this to be a deeply involving read and well worth the money to purchase. For anyone who is interested in coronial matters, I would certainly recommend giving this one a go, but be aware that no punches are pulled when the going gets gory.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge Goal: 11/10

*Challenge completed – Woohoo!*

Until next time,

Bruce

An MG Double-Dip Review: Alexander Baddenfield and Joe All Alone…

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I invite you to collect a portion of your favourite salty snack, pour out some delectable dip and jimageoin me for a tasty double-dip into some MG fiction.  Today I have a new release that I received from the publisher via Netgalley and a tome that has been sat on my shelf for at least six months (which in no way reflects the astronomical levels of excitement and desire that pushed me to buy it in the first place), so with this review I shall also be taking one step closer to the peak of Mt TBR.

But let’s push on. Our first tome is new release UKMG novel Joe All Alone by Joanna Nadin.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When thirteen-year-old Joe is left behind in Peckham while his mum flies to Spain on holiday, he decides to treat it as an adventure, and a welcome break from Dean, her latest boyfriend. Joe begins to explore his neighbourhood, making a tentative friendship with Asha, a fellow fugitive hiding out at her grandfather’s flat.

But when the food and money run out, his mum doesn’t come home, and the local thugs catch up with him, Joe realises time is running out too, and makes a decision that will change his life forever.

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…a sensitively rendered account of a young lad whose mother has chosen a man over her son.  Joe is a likeable, ordinary kid and I think a lot of young readers will relate to his matter-of-fact narration and the anxieties that sit in the back of his mind.  The book touches on themes of domestic violence, racism,  family breakdown, trust and identity and subtly balances the neglectful actions of Joe’s mother and father-figure with the cautiously caring actions of the adults in Joe’s block of flats. The friendship between Joe and Asha is believable and adds a bit of fun and banter to a story that has a pervasive atmosphere of loss and fear.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re wanting a fun, lawless romp featuring a cheery young lad who is happy that his parents have left (as indicated by the cover, and the tagline “No parents, no rules…no problem?”).  This really is a book that focuses on the deeper issues that Joe is facing and as the story progresses, Joe’s fears about what will happen next and who to trust are palpable.

Similarly, if you’ve read a lot of UK fiction in this kind of vein – kid with violent/absent/mentally-ill/drug-addicted parent struggles to find friendship and help to live a normal life – you might get the sense of having read this all before.

Overall Dip Factor

Joe All Alone is a solid addition to the MG literature featuring realistic, contemporary storytelling focusing on important social issues in an accessible way.  The diary format worked well in building up the suspense of what might happen if Joe’s mum didn’t return and also helped the reader focus in on Joe’s day-to-day struggles once it was apparent that his mum wasn’t coming back.  The ending was a surprise for me, given how realistic it actually was in terms of where a young person might find themselves once the adults in their life have abdicated responsibility for them.

While I did enjoy the book, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this story was nothing new.  I suspect this is one of the problems of reading as a reviewer with a special interest in MG and YA – although I haven’t read a story featuring exactly this plot before, I’ve certainly read more than a handful that deal with the same themes and same sorts of characters and that does take some of the sparkle out of the story.  If you enjoy this genre though, or haven’t read a lot featuring these themes, Joe All Alone is definitely worth a look.

Now onto some real wickedness.  Here’s The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield by John Bemelmans Marciano.  From Goodreads:

Alexander Baddenfield is a horrible boy—a really horrible boy—who is the last in a long line of lying, thieving scoundrels.  One day, Alexander has an astonishing idea.  Why not transplant the nine lives from his cat into himself?  Suddenly, Alexander has lives to spare, and goes about using them up, attempting the most outrageous feats he can imagine.  Only when his lives start running out, and he is left with only one just like everyone else, does he realize how reckless he has been.

Dip into it for… alexander baddenfield

…a delightfully droll tale in which a naughty boy gets his just desserts. Eventually.  This cheekily illustrated book is Edward Gorey for children (and their subversive parents) and I don’t feel too bad in telling you that Alexander dies in the end. Multiple times.  There’s also a shocking reveal about the real name of Alexander’s gentleman’s gentleman.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a tale in which the bad guy learns his lesson and turns over a new leaf – Ebenezer Scrooge this kid ain’t.  Also, if the thought of a young child dying in various horrible ways offends you, you should probably steer clear.  And there’s at least some surgical mistreatment of a cat.

Overall Dip Factor:

This is a completely quirky and unexpected trip into the philosophical origins of good and evil and whether or not a villain can ever really change his ways.  Also, it’s just a pretty funny romp through the death-fields with an arrogant little snot and his long-suffering babysitter. Keen-eyed readers will also appreciate the playful anagrammatic name of Alexander’s surgeon and the phonetically named cat.  This would be a great read-together for parents with left-of-centre offspring in the early middle-grade age range.

So there you are.  One seriously realistic read and one seriously ridiculous read.  Take your pick.  Or better yet, dip into both!

Until next time,

Bruce