Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: What Milo Saw….and a Fi50 Reminder…

4

imageAhoy and avast, ye shelf-lubbers! Today I have a book for grown ups, told from the perspective of two of my favourite fleshling-types: children and old people.  Actually, it’s told from multiple points of view, but we’ll get to that later.  And before I go any further, allow me to remind you that Fiction in 50 for July will be going live on Mondayand this month’s prompt will be…

path to enlightenment

To find out more, just click on that attractive button over there.  We’d love to have you play along!

Now, back to business – today’s offering is What Milo Saw by Virginia MacGregor.

Nine-year-old Milo suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, which causes him to see the world as if looking through a pinhole.  But Milo often spots things that others miss.  When Milo’s beloved Gran moves out of their home and into Forget-Me-Not nursing home, it seems that Milo is the only one that can see how Nurse Thornhill mistreats the patients.  With his mother reeling from the recent, girlfriend-and-new-baby laden departure of his father, the only one Milo can rely on is his pet pig, Hamlet.  Then Milo meets Tripi, a Syrian refugee and the cook at Forget-Me-Not, and things start looking up.  As Milo digs deeper into the scandal at the nursing home, he will need all the help he can get to expose Nurse Thornhill and her brutal ways and save the day – as well as saving his Gran.

what milo sawRead it if:

* you believe pigs (and elderly Grans) are for life, not just for Christmas

* you’ve ever wondered why nursing home patrons never look like they’re having any fun

* you’ve ever found a new friend in a very unlikely place

* you thoroughly enjoy stories in which old people get to break free from the shackles of advanced age and live a little

I seem to be bringing you a lot of books with elderly protagonists lately – and why not, I say! I love them, generally (the books that is, not necessarily the old people.  That’s on a case by case basis).  What Milo Saw is a one part mystery, one part humour, and one part relationship novel with beguiling characters who are all handicapped by their situation in one way or another.  Milo has a problem with his eyesight, Gran’s mind is fading, Sandy (Milo’s mum) is having a hard time after her relationship break-up and Tripi is a refugee with no papers who has left his twelve-year-old sister behind in Syria.  As individuals, they have great difficulties overcoming their various problems, but when they start working together, problems seem to be quickly resolved.

I really enjoyed reading this book mostly because of the genuinely likeable characters,  but I never got to the point of really loving it.  While the plot was reasonably complicated, with the lives of various characters overlapping in interesting ways, the overall telling of the story was somewhat formulaic.  I felt that a few of the elements, such as Milo’s eyesight problems and the inclusion of the pig, were a bit contrived and didn’t necessarily add anything to the story overall, apart from a quirky hook in the blurb.  Similarly, while the characters were likeable, they were mostly quite two-dimensional.

Nevertheless, despite these niggling issues, the book was a fun, engaging read and had plenty of humour to spark things up.  The use of multiple points of view to tell the story also helped my enjoyment of the book, as it allowed for a few twists in the story that would otherwise have been missing.

Overall, I think this would be a great holiday read, or a book for those times when you don’t want to have to work too hard and are looking for something with a bit of heart and humour.  What Milo Saw is due to be released on July 29th.

Until next time (get those Fi50 ideas churning!),

Bruce

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

//

Utopirama: A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home…

6

image

Welcome once again to the semi-regular Utopirama feature, wherein I aim to heighten awareness about certain books that promote that feeling of happiness and that sense of all being right with the world.  Books featured in Utopirama posts are cosy reads, in which nothing occurs to disturb your equilibrium.  Today’s offering is one for the dog-lovers. And also for the nursing home lovers (in case any exist).  And finally for lovers of old age.  It is, of course, A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher by Sue Halpern.

dog nursing

Quick Overview:

The book follows the story of Sue, and her loveable dog Pransky, who decide that the time is ripe for some volunteering in order to make their corner of the world a better place.  In the face of reasonably large odds (Pransky’s lack of desire to participate in the process, for one) Sue researches the requirements needing to be satisfied for herself and Pransky to become a therapy team and then tries to whip (metaphorically, obviously) Pransky into shape.  After passing the rigorous test for therapy dog teams, Pransky and Sue begin to volunteer at their local nursing home.  From the cranky to the welcoming to the downright not-quite-sure-what’s-going-on, Pransky and Sue encounter and engage with every possible attitude, state of mind and personality in their weekly visits to the elderly residents, proving in the process that sometimes the most effective form of healing and connection can be packaged in the shape of a big furry pillow. With dog breath.

Utopian Themes:

Comfort for the Afflicted

Going Gently into that Good Night

Furry Friends

Communicating beyond Words

Cultivating Virtue

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

protective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubble

5 out of 5 bubbles for the gentle whuffling of a hound all a-snooze

This is the perfect read for those who like a dog book in which you can be sure that the dog doesn’t die at the end.  Although, a lot of the old people do.

Until next time,

Bruce

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

//

Adult Fiction ARC Read-it-if Review: Lost and Found…

7

Morning all! I am so, so pleased to be bringing this book to you today.  I have adopted this state of heightened excitement because in this book I have found an Australian equivalent to one of my all time favourites, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.  That book had all the things I love in a novel – old people, an obscure quest and dry humour.  The book I present to you today has all that and more – not just old people, but shouty, rude old people.  Not a simple obscure quest but an obscure quest involving a one-legged shop mannequin.  And not just dry humour, but…well, lots of dry humour.  I give you Lost and Found by Brooke Davis.  Double points for Australian authorage.

I was lucky enough to receive a digital copy of this title from Hachette Australia for review, but I have to go and buy it in hardback anyway now, and put it on the “special” shelf to be watched over by my book-guarding minions.

Lost and Found follows the (slightly tragicomical) story of Millie Bird, a seven-year-old with a preoccupation for dead things, a father who has recently become a dead thing, and a mother who has abandoned her in the underwear section of a department store.  We first meet Millie in said underwear department as she waits for her mother’s return under the watchful eye of Manny the hawaiian-shirt-wearing mannequin across the aisle. Partway into Millie’s eventful waiting, she meets Karl the touch typist, an octogenarian widower who spends his days sitting in the department store cafe, silently grieving his dear departed Evie.  Shortly after Millie escapes from the department store (and, simultaneously, from the social services) with the help of Karl, we are introduced to Agatha Pantha, a widow who has not left her house since her husband died seven years ago, and who fills her time with such productive measures as the keeping of a daily record of her physical signs of ageing, and the shouting of remarkably personal insults at passers-by from her lounge-room window.  As the social services close in, Agatha and Millie make an attempt to follow Millie’s mum, using an itinerary left behind in the house.  Along the way they join forces with Karl and together the three (well, technically four – Manny ends up along for the ride too) evade the law and try to find Millie a home. 

lost and found

Read it if:

* you’ve ever felt a real and personal connection to a shop mannequin (in any sort of attire)

* you hope to grow old disgracefully and take up a life of geriatric delinquency

* you like to ponder the big questions, such as “Where do parking inspectors go when they die?” and “Has my arm flab increased by more than a millimetre since yesterday?”

* you believe (as I do) that if we were all allowed to shout insulting things at other people when we are having a bad day (month/year/life) then navigating a path through everyday social situations would suddenly become a lot more interesting

Aaaaaahhhhhh.  That is the sound of contented sighing when, after reading only 2% of the Kindle version of this book, I knew that it and I were resonating on the same frequency.  This book is by turns delightful, sad, poignant, hilarious and a bit off-putting.  The off-putting bit relates to a reasonably graphic description of old-people sex, in case you’re wondering.  It is the book that I was hoping The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin was going to be, but whereas the characters and situations in that book annoyed me and seemed trite and contrived, the characters in Lost and Found just jumped off the page in a comfortable mix of idiosyncracies.

I could imagine that some readers might find Karl and Agatha (and especially Millie, in her precocious innocence) a bit contrived and annoying, but for me they were perfectly constructed and I just fell in love.  I loved Karl’s rebellious spirit and commitment to tagging public (and private!) property in popular 1980’s parlance.  I laughed my guts out at Agatha’s compulsion to shout the awkwardly anti-social obvious (“Assymetrical face!” “Stupid shoes!”) and I cheered inwardly at Millie’s determination to play the Angel of Existentialism by adopting the persona of Captain Funeral for her captive fellow train passengers.

While the characters embark on what feels like an epic journey, I knocked the book over in a couple of decent sittings because it was one of those stories that had me continually thinking, “I’ll just read one more chapter/to the next page break/until Agatha shouts something next”.  Inevitably, I was drawn ever-deeper into the increasingly complex (and somewhat ridiculous) web of deception and evasion of public officials that Karl, Agatha and Millie spin.  Like the book itself, the ending is at once poignant and light, inevitable and satisfying and one designed to keep the three main characters in the reader’s mind, while accepting that this too shall pass.

All in all, Lost and Found is a five star read has earned a place on my list of favourites.  As soon as someone takes the hint and buys me a hardback copy of Harold Fry, I will place these two side by side on my shelf as a tribute to humour in the midst of a finite existence.

Until next time (Reads too slow! Dried out eyeballs! Yawning at inappropriate moments!),

Bruce

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

//

Adult Fiction Haiku Review: Elizabeth is Missing…

9

It’s Mad Martha with you today to share a haiku review for a book that we have read recently and very much enjoyed.  Dealing, as it does, with senior citizens, we were already predisposed to feel affection towards it, but the writing and the plot have cemented this book as one which will remain with us for a long time (ironically, given the afflictions of the main character). I speak, of course, of Elizabeth is Missing, a contemporary literary fiction novel by Emma Healey.

The book follows the slow decline of Maud, an elderly lady who experiences a constant feeling of distress at the fact that her friend Elizabeth has gone missing, and this distress is exacerbated by the fact that no one seems to believe her.  Maud, it must be said, is also suffering from what can only be described as dementia, but despite forgetting to turn the cooker off, the names of her carers, and various other important facts of her day-to-day existence, the pressing need to find out where Elizabeth has got to consumes her waking mind.  As Maud’s condition deteriorates, she is drawn ever deeper into memories of her past, in which her older sister, Sukey, also mysteriously disappeared without trace shortly after the War.  While Maud’s daughter Helen does all she can to distract and reassure her ailing mother about the current mystery of Elizabeth’s whereabouts, nothing will stand in the way of the indomitable Maud as her disintegrating mind works to uncover the secrets that are being hidden from her.  With single-minded purpose, Maud continues on her quest to find Elizabeth, and in the process inadvertantly digs up some clues that may also help solve a family mystery that has persisted for rather longer.

elizabeth is missing

What was it again?

My friend, yes! She’s missing! Who?

Elizabeth? No…

Healey has done a fantastic job here of capturing the frustration, confusion and general sense of loss that accompany the decline of a once-agile mind without sinking any of her characters into a mire of depression.  From her own recollections of girlhood, we can tell that Maud has always had a curious and fairly tenacious personality and this is reflected in the character’s ever more drastic attempts to make people aware that Elizabeth is missing and that something must be done about it.  Helen, Maud’s daughter and carer, is realistically portrayed as a frustrated woman of middle-age trying to manage both teenage daughter and elderley mother simultaneously.  While I was reading I had the strongest feelings of resonance between the events and emotions portrayed in this fictional work with the events and emotions portrayed in the real-life memoir of Andrea Gillies, Keeper: One House, Three Generations and A Journey into Alzheimer’s,  in which Gillies describes being a full-time carer for her mother-in-law.  Despite Maud’s hot-and-cold relationship with Helen as her disease progresses, Healey never demonises Helen but, I think, strikes a nice balance between the frustration of the declining and the frustration of the carer.

My favourite relationship here is that between Maud and her grand-daughter Katy – throughout the book Maud has a hit-and-miss record of remembering who Katy is, but it is obvious that Katy, slightly rebellious teenager that she is, is the only one prepared to meet Maud where she’s at.  The two have some brilliant conversations in which the patronising tone of other adults in the book towards Maud is completely absent and it’s delightful to see how this simple dynamic changes Maud’s outlook and reminds her that she is still a functioning individual on many levels.

Apart from the fantastic characterisation in the book, the mystery of Elizabeth has a nice arc of suspense to it.  Although as the story moves on, the reader can make some educated guesses about Elizabeth’s whereabouts, the final reveal is compounded by this new (old) mystery of the disappearence of Maud’s older sister.  There’s a good sense of balance played out between the two mysteries – as one begins to wind down in the mind of the reader, the other is picked up, creating a continuous sense of puzzlement that is reflected in both Maud’s actions and the actions of those around her.

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read with a clever twist on your standard cosy-type mystery.  Although there is a bit of humour peppered throughout the book, it felt to me to be quite a dense read, so I would suggest picking it up when you have plenty of time to unravel the threads of memory along with Maud.

Until we meet again, may your ration books be plump and juicy and your marrows be ever filled with stamps…or something like that, anyway.

Mad Martha

* I received a digital copy of Elizabeth is Missing from the publisher via Netgalley *

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

//