Shouty Doris Interjects during…Into the White: Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey

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Shouty Doris interjects

We’re seeing less and less of Doris lately, but I’m happy to say that everybody’s favourite grouchy ill-tempered opinionated granny  person is joining us today to discuss Into the White: Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey by Joanna Grochowicz.  It’s a re-telling in narrative non-fiction style of Scott’s ill-fated mission to be the first to reach the South Pole and we received our copy for review from Allen & Unwin.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Together, they have taken on the greatest march ever made and come very near to great success; never giving up, and never giving up on each other.

This is the story of Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica and the memorable characters, who with a band of shaggy ponies and savage dogs, follow a man they trust into the unknown.

Battling storms at sea, impenetrable pack ice, maneating whales, crevasses, blizzards, bad food, extreme temperatures, and equal measures of hunger, agony and snow blindness, the team pushes on against all odds.

But will the weather hold? Will their rations be adequate? How will they know when they get there? And who invited the Norwegians?

Into the White will leave you on the edge of your seat, hoping against hope that Scott and his men might survive their Antarctic ordeal to tell the tale.

into the white

Into the White: SCott’s Antarctic Odyssey by Joanna Grochowicz.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th April, 2017.  RRP: $14.99

I only knew the bare bones of this tale of epic adventure –

Shouty Doris interjects

Epic idiocy, you mean.

Yes, welcome back Doris.

As I was saying, before reading this book I only knew the absolute basics of Scott’s mission.  Actually, to be honest, I only knew about the very ending bit, with Oates’ famous, “I’m going out for a walk” quote and Scott’s subsequent death from hunger and exposure-

Shouty Doris interjects

His death from the crushing weight of his own egotism, you mean.

Thanks Doris.

…so finding out about the events leading up to the bit I knew about was both fascinating and completely baffling.

Shouty Doris interjects

There you are, you got to the nub of it in the end.  

So you agree with me, then, that this is essentially a story about a group of blokes on a boys’ own adventure who were supposed to be undertaking proper scientific research but decided to pick out pack ponies based on the colour of their hides?  Doesn’t sound very scientific to me, deary, and look where that got them!  Dead in the snow.  Them AND their unscientifically chosen ponies!

Yes Doris, I do have to agree with you there.  There was a certain sense of frustration that characterised this story right from the very beginning, although this had nothing to do with the writing of the story and everything to do with the facts.  The very first page tips you off, in case you know nothing about the mission, that Scott’s story doesn’t have a happy ending, but to discover the bizarre, avoidable and beginner-level mistakes that were made on the journey –

Shouty Doris interjects

by a third-time Antarctic adventurer no less…

-Quite! – made reading this feel like wading through snowbanks while wearing a wet-suit and flippers and dragging a massive box of rocks behind you.

 

Shouty Doris interjects

Enough of this shilly-shallying.  

Let’s cut to the chase.  

If you want to spend 250+ pages scratching your head, shouting “Turn back you imbeciles!” and hoping everyone gets sucked into an ice chasm, before finding out that it was all for nowt as the Norwegians beat them to it, this is the book for you.

I will admit that I did end the book wondering why Scott’s epic failure has been so lovingly recorded while Amundsen’s story – the leader of the Norwegian expedition that started closer, covered less dangerous terrain, and ultimately resulted in the first flag-planting at the South Pole – has been ignored.

Shouty Doris interjects

It’s because people like to read about people dying in horrible conditions with their toes frozen off.  It’s called Schadenfreude.

You may be right there, Doris.

To focus on the actual writing for a moment, as opposed to the historical event itself, while I found the information quite interesting, the narrative style felt a tad detached for my liking.  This may have been deliberate, in that it certainly contributes to the atmosphere of a long, fruitless slog toward ultimate failure and death, and also allows the reader to avoid becoming too attached to characters that will eventually die, but all in all reading this felt like more of a history lesson and less like something I would read for enjoyment at times.

The book contains chapter heading illustrations throughout and also features actual photographs from the expedition in the centre.  These were a great touch and added the needed link with the reality of the conditions under which the expedition was labouring to bring the story to life a little more.  At the end of the book a collection of appendices includes short descriptions of Scott’s prior attempts on the South Pole alongside Earnest Shackleton, as well as as Shackleton’s later, unsuccessful Antarctic mission.  A short section on Amundsen’s expedition is included here too, which I found most interesting.

If you know any young history buffs in the upper middle grade and YA age bracket –

Shouty Doris interjects

Or people who enjoy a good dose of Schadenfreude, while reading about people dying in horrible conditions with their toes frozen off…

-you might recommend Into the White.  I can’t say I really loved reading it because although the story itself contains plenty of action and setbacks that should have kept me interested, I got caught up in the epic folly of so many of the decisions that were made along the way that resulted in the men’s deaths.  And I just can’t get over their whoppingly unscientific choice of pack pony.

Any final thoughts, Doris?

Shouty Doris interjects

Needed more women in it to tell the blokes how ridiculous they were being.

Thanks for that Doris.

I’m submitting this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge under category #14: a book involving travel.  You can check out my progress toward all my challenges for this year here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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Shouty Doris interjects during…Aussie debut novel The Bit in Between!

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Shouty Doris interjects

Doris has joined me today for Aussie author Claire Varley’s debut adult contemporary novel, The Bit in Between, which features two mildly confused twentysomethings trying to nut out identity, destiny and love in the Solomon Islands. We received a copy of this book from Pan Macmillan Australia as part of the blog tour for the book’s Australian release – thanks Pan Mac Aus!

As Doris is shelfside today, you can almost be guaranteed that a spoiler of two will slip out. I try to tell her, but you know how she is. You’ve been warned. But let’s get on.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

There are seven billion people in the world. This is the story of two of them.

After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes, quite a lot of vomit, and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.

Immediately.

Inexplicably.

Irrevocably.

With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with ‘happily ever after’.

the bit in between

Now I know that I have a blanket policy of disliking romance books on sight – it comes from having a heart of stone, you see – but I do like to give an affirmative response when asked to review new release contemporary Australian books. This is mostly because I like to keep at least half an eye on what many people are picking up when they wander into a bookshop. So while I was interested in the Solomon Islands setting and the sun-dried tomatoes, particularly, I did have a certain sense of trepidation on entering this story, given that it is advertised as a love story of sorts.

I was happy to discover, however, that The Bit in Between is much more a story about relationships than romance. Phew. Oliver and Alison are an unusual pair, who sort of fall into a spontaneous relationship as much out of a shared sense of ennui as anything else. Oliver is a semi-successful published writer who hates what his publisher did to his debut novel, while Alison is adrift after an unsuccessful relationship with an attractive, narcissistic quasi-poet. I will admit that I didn’t particularly warm to Oliver at all throughout the book, but I became quite fond of Alison by the end.

Shouty Doris interjects

I didn’t like Oliver either. He needed a good kick up the backside with a pointy-toed shoe. Lazy sod. Instead of moping about and whinging about having writer’s block he should have spent his time getting a haircut and a real job. A bit of gainful employment and he wouldn’t have to worry so much about his girlfriend leaving him.

And that Alison! What a nincompoop! What on earth possessed her to take a fancy to that Ed character to begin with? And once she’d escaped from his tedious, self-absorbed clutches, why on earth would she go back?! Young people nowadays! It wouldn’t have happened in my day.

Ahem. Hold on there, Doris. I hadn’t even mentioned Ed yet.

Shouty Doris interjects

Well hurry up then. None of us is getting any younger. At my age, I’m lucky if I make it to the next commercial break.

Yes, well. Once the happy pair decamp to the Solomon Islands, the planned setting of Oliver’s anticipated tour de force, we are introduced to two characters who have the potential to be the most annoying creatures in contemporary literature. Rick is a loud-mouthed, thrill-seeking, hard-drinking American working for an NGO, who befriends Oliver and becomes an entrenched feature in the lives of the two Australians. Ed is Alison’s aforementioned ex-boyfriend who arrives in the Solomons unexpectedly and creates a fair bit of havoc (as well as some truly dreadful poetry).

Out of the two, I much preferred Rick. His interactions never failed to provide a bit of comic relief and I particularly enjoyed his plans to make his (as yet unnamed) band a sound to be reckoned with in the Pacific region and beyond. Similarly, his bout of malaria was quite amusing in both its outrageous enactment and the fact that one couldn’t help but indulge in a bit of schadenfreude. Ed, however, was just a pain in the proverbial. I have to agree with Doris, in that I didn’t find the storyline between Alison and Ed convincing at all, especially considering Alison’s personal growth throughout her time helping local women in the Solomons.

Shouty Doris interjects

A waste of space all round – both the storyline and the bloke.

The part of the book that I enjoyed the most was the inclusion of mini-narratives about minor characters – taxi drivers, passers-by, shop assistants – that gave a hint of these characters’ back stories and provided a bit of an interlude during transitions in the main story.

Shouty Doris interjects

I agree. All of the minor characters’ stories were more interesting than Oliver’s; I’ll tell you that for nothing. Even his ending was ambiguous – like the author couldn’t even be bothered to give him a definitive closing sentence. To be honest, I was hoping for the plane crash he was planning on writing.

That’s a bit harsh, Doris.

Shouty Doris interjects

I’d eject my own seat if I was stuck between him and Ed on a plane.

Well, your animosities for fictional characters aside, the ending to the story is quite ambiguous. I suspect that a particular interpretation is somewhat implied, but I was quite happy to deliberately ignore that interpretation and craft a much more satisfying (to me) ending in my mind. I think people will take what they want to out of the ending, depending on how they feel about the characters and relationships overall.

All in all, this was a strange beast of a read. It has elements of romance, social issues, personal growth, destiny versus decision-making, grief, loss, happiness, achievement and just a touch of something that could be magical realism. For all that though, the fact that I only really connected with one of the main characters made the read not all that it could have been. On the other hand, the variety of elements in the story, and the unexpectedness (unlikeliness?) of some of the events will keep readers on their toes in what will certainly be a great pick for those looking for a holiday romance novel with a bit of real life thrown in.

Shouty Doris interjects

Next time, there should be more about the women, who were the only ones doing anything meaningful, and less about silly blokes who couldn’t change a light bulb between them with an electrified light-bulb changing machine. Honestly, men just drag down a good story.

Present company excepted, of course, eh Doris?

Shouty Doris interjects

Definitely not.

Right. Fine.

Ignore the old bird, try the book.

Until next time,

Bruce

Shouty Doris Interjects during…TrollHunters!

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Shouty Doris interjects

It’s Bruce and Doris with you today with a new release YA novel that features trolls, adventure and illustrations! I excitedly received a copy of Trollhunters by Guillermo del Torro and Daniel Kraus from Five Mile Press and was happy to dive right in. Let’s get stuck in before Doris falls asleep.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In San Bernardino, California, children are going missing. The townspeople don’t believe the rumours of trolls, but fifteen-year-old Jim Jnr knows that they’re a very real threat. At night, is anyone safe? TROLLHUNTERS is a funny, gruesome and undeniably del Toro-esque adventure perfect for teen readers and fans of Pan’s Labyrinth.

trollhunters

As well as being wildly excited to read this book based on the awesome cover, the eye-poppingly brilliant illustrations and a terribly engaging extract, on discovering that Daniel Kraus was a co-author, my anticipation levels went into overdrive. Kraus is the author of Rotters, one of the most compelling and unforgettable books I have ever read and so I was expecting big things from Trollhunters. I have to say that all up, while the story was interesting enough, it didn’t live up to my expectations.

The first chapter drew me straight in, finding out about how Jim Jr’s uncle went missing all those years ago, and I was gearing up for a fast-paced romp until…..we meet up with Jim Jr at school. With his fat best friend and handsome jock bullies.

I have reached a point in my reading life at which I am confident to say that I am thoroughly over the popular/sporty boy bully picking on the weedy and/or fat unpopular kids.

Seriously.

Over it.

Shouty Doris interjects

You can say that again! How many stereotypical handsome, sporty, popular bullies can we stomach before we start feeding authors to their own tedious creations? Honestly, get some new material! Fancy being creative enough to come up with trolls and troll hunters and a missing child conspiracy and then fobbing us off with a bullying plotline that’s been done ad nauseum!

Indeed. I wouldn’t have minded so much if the predictable, tedious chapter at the start of the book was setting up some interesting twist later on, but unfortunately it just led up to a quick, also fairly predictable incident after the climax.

Shouty Doris interjects

Yep. Even I could see that one coming from a mile off, and I lost my glasses six years ago.

One of the things I loved about the book was the incredible illustrations.   I really think more middle grade and YA books could benefit from the kind of sporadic, full page illustrations that appear in Trollhunters. Apart from the fact that they are gorgeous to look at, I love being immersed in a tale only to turn the page and be surprised by an eye-popping bit of artwork. It’s like a secret reward for being engaged in the story.

I also loved the two main troll characters in the story. I can’t say too much for fear of spoilers, but these two really lifted the humour and pace of the story whenever they appeared. The ending gives a fitting tribute to the role that they played in Jim’s journey and was both sentimental and all kinds of awesome. Tub, Jim’s only friend, provided great comic relief and while I was mildly irritated by the fact that there was a romantic plotline added when it really didn’t need to be, Claire was a spot of sunshine also. The twist in her narrative arc was actually quite satisfying and I didn’t see it coming, so that was definitely a plus.

On the other hand, Jack, the uncle who disappeared forty years earlier and reappears in an unexpected fashion had the uncanny ability to slow things down and generally be a bit annoying every time he turned up.

Shouty Doris interjects

Yes, you’d think that after forty years he’d get a bit of maturity about him. Surly little bugger.  For someone who didn’t say a lot, I certainly dreaded him opening his mouth.

After finishing the book I am overwhelmed with the sense that this COULD have been a brilliant, engaging, fast-paced read…..IF it had been pitched at a middle grade audience.

As a YA fantasy/urban fantasy with humour, this fell far short of other books I have read in the genre, such as Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez or Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron. It didn’t have either the mythical complexity or the humour that I was hoping for and I just wanted things to move a bit quicker. However, with a slightly younger protagonist and cutting out all of the bullying and girl-angst stuff that did nothing but add mediocrity, this could have really taken off. As it is, I feel that it misses the mark.

Shouty Doris interjects

More trolls, fewer kids, I say.

Until next time,

Bruce

Shouty Doris Interjects!… during YA New Release “Me Being Me is Exactly As Insane As You Being You”

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Shouty Doris interjects

Welcome once again to the shelf for a close look at an intriguingly premised YA new release, Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You by Todd Hasak-Lowry. Today I am joined by Shouty Doris, who has a few things to say about our experiences of this book. Given that Shouty Doris has a very low level of regard for the sensitivities of others, you can be certain that this review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS! You have been warned.  I also must say a hearty thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for furnishing us with a copy of this exceedingly hefty tome (646 pages!) and an impressed “well done” to the Australia Post postie who lugged it to our address.

But let’s get on. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Darren hasn’t had an easy year. There was his parents’ divorce, which just so happened to come at the same time his older brother Nate left for college and his longtime best friend moved away. And of course there’s the whole not having a girlfriend thing. Then one Thursday morning Darren’s dad shows up at his house at 6 a.m. with a glazed chocolate doughnut and a revelation that turns Darren’s world inside out. In full freakout mode, Darren, in a totally un-Darren move, ditches school to go visit Nate. Barely twenty-four hours at Nate’s school makes everything much better or much worse—Darren has no idea. It might somehow be both. All he knows for sure is that in addition to trying to figure out why none of his family members are who they used to be, he’s now obsessed with a strangely amazing girl who showed up out of nowhere but then totally disappeared.

Told entirely in lists, Todd Hasak-Lowy’s debut YA novel perfectly captures why having anything to do with anyone, including yourself, is:

1. painful

2. unavoidable

3. ridiculously complicated

4. possibly, hopefully the right thing after all.

me being me

Did you get that? The book is formatted ENTIRELY IN LISTS! As an avid list writer and general fan of lists, that was enough to have me salivating over this tome. Unfortunately, there was one main problem with these lists.

Shouty Doris interjects

I’ll say. They were about as funny and engaging as a train-spotting accountant’s grocery list. AND they made the book ridiculously long. Not to mention heavy. God only knows what they were thinking with this one.

Yes. Well. As Shouty Doris so clearly points out, if a book is to be composed entirely in list format, I would suggest making those lists reasonably quirky and interesting. Or chuckleworthy. Or at the very least, engaging. Sadly, most of the lists in this book were …well…unnecessary and plot-slowing.

Shouty Doris interjects

Yes, yes, we realise the boy is confused but including multiple lists consisting of various ways to say “What the Fox?” is both tedious and self-indulgent. Honestly, I wanted to poke someone’s eyes out by about page 50. Preferably my own.

I also had a bit of a problem with the main character, Darren. Essentially, I found him to be quite underdeveloped and that he lacked a solid voice. I didn’t really feel that he had anything going for him, especially considering the characters around him, including his overcompensating father, his self-centred and distant mother and his significantly-cooler-than-Darren brother, were just so much better developed. So while I quite enjoyed the parts that involved Darren relating his interactions with these other characters, a significant part of the book is just Darren monologuing in fairly uninspiring lists.

Shouty Doris interjects

Can’t stand a monologue. Especially from a teenager. Nobody can wallow in misplaced self-pity quite like a teenager.

The strange thing about this book (and be prepared for spoilers here) is that the actual content could have formed the basis of a fantastically engaging read. The incident mentioned in the blurb that causes Darren to question his very identity (and indulge in multiple WTF? lists) is one that was unusual enough to generate lots of interest as well as provide a springboard for in-depth examination, discussion and general turning-over of the topic. It really could have been a story that engaged teenagers (and others) in discussing their attitudes, beliefs and prejudices and how these might affect them if they (or someone close to them were in a similar situation).

Shouty Doris interjects

Stop beating around the proverbial. The twist is that Darren’s father announces over the breakfast table that he’s GAY. Wouldn’t that be an interesting way to start the day for young Darren?! Imagine what could have followed! But young pity-party Darren just uses the opportunity for another round of “What the Foxes”.

Seriously, I feel that the author missed an opportunity here to make this story relevant and arresting. The coming out of Darren’s father isn’t actually the only storyline going on here and I felt that things just got convoluted and the focus of the plot wasn’t clearly defined. I suppose this is a danger of breaking usual rules of narrative style – while the list idea is great as an initial drawcard, it needs to be backed up by masterful writing and, more importantly in my view, ruthless editing.

Overall, I think there will be a certain readership who really enjoy Darren’s story and can appreciate the author’s style, but for me, it was disappointing to see an interesting format and a conceptually meaningful story, with potentially far-reaching influence, executed in such a pedestrian way.  I suspect I would have enjoyed this much more if the author had dispensed with the quirky list idea and instead focused on developing the characters and plot.

Shouty Doris interjects

It’s a “no” from me, Barry.

Until next time,

Bruce (not Barry. Forgive her, she’s getting on.)