TBR Friday: The League of Beastly Dreadfuls…

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TBR Friday

It’s TBR Friday once again and I’m happy to say I’ve knocked over another reasonably substantial tome in the last fortnight in my progress toward Pike’s Peak in the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017.  The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant was another that I had marked down at the beginning of the year as one I particularly wanted to get through in this challenge, so it’s a relief to have finished it.

the league of beastly dreadfuls

Ten Second Synopsis:

Anastasia’s world is turned upside down when her parents are unexpectedly killed in a freak vacuum-cleaning accident and she is whisked away to live with her strange and not altogether friendly Great Aunts in a sprawling house that used to be St Agony’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Once there, Anastasia is plagued by the sense that something is not right – could it be the lunatic boy gardener, the proliferation of portraiture featuring monobrowed ladies, or simply the poor cooking that could be to blame?

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Since January, 2015.

Acquired:

From the Book Depository as a pre-order.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

It is one of a cluster of middle grade books on my TBR that are of a similar theme and because I have multiple of these to choose from, I end up choosing none at all.  Hence the fact that they are all still on my TBR shelf.

Best Bits:

  • The book has a humorous, light-hearted tone, which makes it very easy to flick through.  I quite enjoyed the style of humour at the start of the story and even dog-eared a page that had the main character saying, “Curse you, Winkles!” after tripping over a garden gnome (named Winkles) because I thought that the phrase was one I could certainly slip into my everyday speech patterns.
  • The story is easy to follow and the mystery isn’t too complex, so this is a good choice for when you are looking for a fun read that won’t make you work too hard.
  • Without spoiling the plot at all, I really enjoyed the originality of certain talents displayed by certain young male characters that ally themselves with Anastasia.  It’s so rewarding to discover “magical” style talents and folk that aren’t common in other literature for this age group.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • After initially enjoying the banterish, tangent-seeking style of humour in the story, by about halfway through I felt that it slowed the pace a little.
  • The resolution to Anastasia’s problems seemed a bit too wacky and convenient to me and appeared to be setting up for the second book in the series rather than solely concluding this one.   Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I won’t be chasing up the second as the narrative style grated on me after a while and I wanted the plot to move a bit quicker.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

I have absolutely no idea why I decided I had to have this so badly that I put it on pre-order.  I would have been just as happy borrowing it from the library I suspect.

Where to now for this tome?

To be sold at Suitcase Rummage.

So that’s eleven books down out of my hoped-for total of twelve for the year, and since we’re only at early June, I could well extend my goal to the second level of Mt. Blanc (24 books).  I think I’ll leave it as is at the moment though and see how I go.  The second half of the year is always busy with new releases and my review schedule for the next few months looks pretty packed as it is.  Anyway, if you’d like to check out my progress toward any of my reading challenges for 2017, you can do that here.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Engineer and a Philosopher Walk into a Time Tunnel: The Princelings of the East Blog Tour!

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the princelings trilogy

You know that old joke, don’t you? The one where the engineer and the philosopher walk into a time tunnel?  Well, if you haven’t heard it, let me be the first to introduce you to friend-of-the-shelf, indie author Jemima Pett’s adventure series for all ages: The Princelings of the East! We shelf-dwellers are very pleased to be participating in the tour, hosted by My Family’s Heart, to promote the first three books in this six book series.

Now, while I say that the tour is promoting the first three books in the imageseries, I only managed to get through the first two before my tour date crept up on me, so I’ll be focusing in on those two today. I should also mention that I acquired the trilogy by winning a competition run by Jemima herself a veritable age ago and this tour gave me the perfect opportunity to knock two books off my TBR and re-home them on my permanent shelf – hurrah!

To start us off, here’s the blurb for the trilogy from Goodreads:

Suitable for all ages, The Princelings of the East is a trilogy relating the adventures of unlikely guinea pig heroes Fred and George. Two innocents abroad, they solve problems caused by unintended consequences, commercial greed, and blind prejudice yet still find time to engage in troubled love affairs and nearly blow themselves up with their own inventions.

Oh yes, did I mention that the engineer and the philosopher are, in fact, guinea pigs? Sorry for the oversight. I suspect that the reason this trilogy has sat on my TBR unread for so long is because I am mildly wary of books based around anthropomorphic animals. I’m pleased to say, however, that the writing here is such that the guinea pig thing is hardly an issue and when I did remember I was reading about guinea pigs, the mental image always gave me a little giggle. Essentially, Fred, George and the gang definitely grew on me quite quickly.

princelings one

Book one of the trilogy is The Princelings of the East in which we are introduced to Fred and George’s world – a world made up of castles full of guinea pigs, each with their own royal lineages. In this book, the Castle on the Marsh (or Castle Marsh for short) is experiencing strange and highly inconvenient energy drains and Fred (the philosopher) and George (the engineer) decide to throw caution to the wind and venture forth from Castle Marsh to see if they can discover the cause of the Energy Drain.

Almost immediately the brothers are separated and while Fred is led onwards by a stranger with an unusual accent and plus-sized girth, George finds himself in a different castle that seems to be labouring under some very odd chronological anomalies. As the brothers puzzle out the mysteries that they are faced with in their separate situations, we are introduced to a host of other characters and must riddle out, along with Fred and George, who is trustworthy and who might not be who they appear to be.

I was surprised at the cerebral nature of the writing in what I originally thought was a middle-grade story. Much of Fred’s adventure is taken up with political to-and-fro-ing as high profile members from other castles become involved in solving the problem of the Energy Drain and diplomatic relations between various castles are carefully managed. George, in the meantime, is left to unravel the mystery of a tunnel that appears to transport its users to other times, while also assisting in the streamlining of production processes of a widely exported diet drink.

At times, during Fred’s story arc, I felt a bit like I was reading Jane Austen (for guinea pigs) and during George’s, I felt like I’d fallen into Back to the Future (for guinea pigs). While this might sound an unpromising match, it actually worked really well to keep me engaged. And as I mentioned before, whenever I remembered that these were guinea pigs – riding in carriages, fixing industrial vending machines and the like – it gave me a chuckle. It’s rare that you find a book that is pitched nominally at children that also has enough intellectual material in the plot to keep adults interested, but this is one of those books.

the princelings two

The second book in the trilogy is The Princelings and the Pirates which does exactly what it says on the tin, plunging Fred, George, some of the guys we met in the first book and some new furry faces into a good old, piratey adventure. This book had a much lighter tone than the first and the action – in terms of deck-swabbing, swashbuckling, kidnapping and the like – increases tenfold. The book opens with Princess Kira of Dimerie, a prime wine-producing kingdom, kidnapped by pirates – guinea pig pirates, obviously – and when the other castles send emissaries to find out why the wine supply has dried up, said emissaries, including Fred and George, are press-ganged into the pirate life.

As well as the general pirate business, there’s also a surprise in store for the brothers as they discover a certain bad seed nestled in the branches of their family tree, suffer some critical injuries and aid in the effort to subdue the pirate menace. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, being partial to tales set on the high seas and the whole “main characters are guinea pigs” thing really had me giggling as my mind boggled at some of the more swashbuckly battle scenes in which the characters engage.  This book also had many more touching scenes as friends, new and old, fall into dangerous situations and the thin line between life and death becomes a tenuous one to walk.

I really appreciated the diversity between the two tales and now I’m chomping at the bit (of lettuce) to get at book three, The Princelings and the Lost City, which as I mentioned, I didn’t get time to read before this post.

princelings three

Starting this series has been enlightening, and I feel I’ve been inspired to take another look at Brian Jacques’ Redwall series – if I can enjoy adventurous guinea pigs so much, surely battle-hardened squirrels will be right up my alley!

If you are looking for an adventure series that will give your brain and your funny-bone a work out, then I can heartily recommend having a look at the Princelings series. It’s certainly got a wider appeal than just middle grade aged readers.

If you’d like to find out more about the series, you can go here and if you’d like to check out Jemima Pett’s blog, you can do that here.

Until next time,

Bruceimage

Mondays are for Murder: The Norfolk Mystery…

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Welcome to another Mondays are for Murder feature. I feel I must apologise for perhaps leading some of you up the garden path.  You see I mentioned in my last MafM feature that I would be featuring Dorothy L. Sayers work this time around.  Well, I did try. I picked up Whose Body? and tried to wade through it alongside Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, but I just couldn’t do it.  I don’t know whether it was the writing, the character or my mood at the time (or a combination of all three) but I quickly tired of Lord Peter (who, let’s face it, is no Poirot or Marple) and made an executive decision to move on.  Sorry.

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So instead, today I have the first in Ian Sansom’s “County Guides” series, The Norfolk Mystery.  I’ve had my eye on this one for a while and I finally found it at our new library so was spared the expense of buying it. Which turned out to be quite a spectacular turn of good luck, as you will discover. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In The Norfolk Mystery, the first in the County Guides series, we meet Swanton Morley. Eccentric, autodidact – the ‘People’s Professor.’ Morley plans to write a series of guides to the counties of England. He employs a young assistant, Stephen Sefton, veteran of the Spanish Civil War, and together with Morley’s daughter, Miriam, they set off through Norfolk, where their sightseeing tour quickly turns into a murder investigation.

As Morley confronts the conventions of class, education and politics in 1930s England, as Sefton flees his memories of the war, and as Miriam seeks romance, join them on their first adventure into the dark heart of England.  When Morley’s map leads to mystery, no one is above suspicion!

norfolk mystery

I feel I should shed more light on the above blurb by mentioning that on arrival in their first port-of-call in Norfolk, to peruse a church of some significance, Sefton and Morley are greeted by a duo of upset ladies and are shown to the rectory, in which hangs the lifeless body of the village vicar.  I’m not entirely sure why the blurb is so obtuse about the central plot point, but consider yourself enlightened.

The Usual Suspects:

For all intents and purposes, the vicar’s death appears to be a suicide so until Morley mentions the possibility of murder, nobody had actually considered it.  Immediately upon mentioning murder, Morley and Sefton become chief suspects, being strangers who have conveniently turned up out of nowhere and happen to have stumbled upon a not-very-suspicious death.  When Morley and Sefton take up the potential case however, a host of village regulars come into play – the odious local professor, the village doctor, and various wives and barfolk who wish to keep themselves to themselves.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Again, since there is no official cause to suspect that the vicar’s death is murder, the investigation is kept somewhat on the down-low by Morley and Sefton, who conduct their interrogations through the veil of polite inquiry and socially-sanctioned conversation.  Suffice to say, this is one murder-mystery the likes of which I have never encountered.

Overall Rating:

poison clip artpoison clip art

Two poison bottles for an abundance of unnecessary confusion and delay

In detailing some important point during the investigation, Morley notes that for most suicides, if one were to detail one’s thought processes, one might say “I would not have committed suicide, but for (insert situation here)”.  For example, “I would not have committed suicide, but for the fact that I went bankrupt” or whatever.  I feel it is appropriate to comment in the same vein on my enjoyment of this book.  So here goes:

I would have enjoyed this book, but for the inclusion of Morley himself, as I found him possibly the most distracting, annoying and generally convoluting character I have ever encountered, and would have enjoyed nothing more than to poke him with great force in his flabby underbelly with a sharpened fork.

If you are familiar with British sitcoms of the early 1990s, you will gain a fuller understanding of the character of Morley should I compare him to one Gordon Brittas, from  the BBC’s The Brittas Empire.  Only Morley is considerably more intelligent than Mr Brittas.  If you are unfamiliar with the aforementioned program, allow me to elaborate.  Morley is so verbose as to derail, it seems, even the author in his attempts to keep the plot following a reasonably efficient tack.  He is a well-intentioned character, but his entire reason for being appears to involve distracting, deflecting and otherwise drawing away the attention of the reader (and the poor, suffering Sefton) from the situation at hand.  In my opinion, what this book really needed was this, courtesy of Monty Python:

I had great hopes for this series, but as Morley has annoyed me so greatly I will not be continuing on and will leave Sefton to suffer in silence.  I will however, still have a go at the Mobile Library series written by Sansom, because I enjoyed his writing style, if not his main character.  I’d love to know what others have thought of this series if there are any among you who have read it though.

Until next time,

Bruce