Shouty Doris interjects during….Lily and the Octopus!

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Shouty Doris interjects

Doris and I are with you today to discuss a new release contemporary novel that features some major elements of magical realism and at least one characterful dog.  As we all know, Shouty Doris is a big mouth  a blabberchops free with her opinions, so I’m warning you now, this review may contain SPOILERS.  You have been warned.

We received a copy of Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Combining the emotional depth of The Art of Racing in the Rain with the magical spirit of The Life of Pi, Lily and the Octopus is an epic adventure of the heart.

When you sit down with Lily and the Octopus, you will be taken on an unforgettable ride.

The magic of this novel is in the read, and we don’t want to spoil it by giving away too many details. We can tell you that this is a story about that special someone: the one you trust, the one you can’t live without.

For Ted Flask, that someone special is his aging companion Lily, who happens to be a dog. Lily and the Octopus reminds us how it feels to love fiercely, how difficult it can be to let go, and how the fight for those we love is the greatest fight of all.

Remember the last book you told someone they had to read? Lily and the Octopus is the next one.

lily and the octopus

So Lily and the Octopus centres around young man and his relationship with his aging dachshund, Lily.  Things are going mediocre-ly for Ted, when he discovers an … octopus… on Lily’s head.

Shouty Doris interjects

Octopus indeed. He’s not fooling anyone.

Yes, well, I’d have to agree with you there, and I don’t think it’s particularly a spoiler to say that the octopus is not a literal octopus but a figurative one, indicative of the fact that Lily is sick.  Possibly life-threateningly sick, as frequently happens with pets of a certain age.  The point is, Ted refers to this …thing.. as an octopus for almost the whole book and even ends up having conversations with it.  Therein lies the magical realism in the story.

Shouty Doris interjects

Therein lies the lunacy more like.  That Ted needs to get out more.  He’s far too co-dependent on that dog if you ask me.  A grown man, too.  

Ted is indeed very invested in his relationship with his dog.  He is in between romantic relationships and on discovering the cephalopodic threat to Lily, begins to withdraw from his friends even more.  As the book continues, we discover more about the back story as to how Ted came to be Lily’s owner, and a previous life-threatening illness that Lily overcame.  We are even privy to his weekly battles with his therapist, Jenny.

Shouty Doris interjects

Why on earth would you waste money on a therapist for whose opinion you are indifferent?  He has more money than sense, that Ted.    Anyone who spends money on inflatable sharks needs their head examined if you ask me.

You’ve brought up a good point there, Doris –

Shouty Doris interjects

All my points are good points. 

– because up until about two-thirds into the story, the only bizarre thing about the book is Ted’s unwillingness to address Lily’s octopus for what it really is.  Once the book hits the two-thirds mark however, the magical realism is ratcheted up a notch and a number of chapters go full allegorical mode as Ted battles his inner demons on a very strange stage indeed.  I shan’t spoil any of that bit for you –

Shouty Doris interjects

Can I, though?

– no – but I found it to be a bit much for my tastes.  It is certainly the most action-packed part of the book and an important turning point for Ted, but by that stage, I knew what the outcome was likely to be, had accepted it, and was just waiting for Ted to do the same.

Shouty Doris interjects

He was very slow on the uptake, wasn’t he?  Everyone knows that any time a cute, cuddly animal appears in a book or film, it’s one hundred per cent certain that it will end up – 

THANKS DORIS!  I think I hear The Bold and the Beautiful starting! I’ll shut the door so we don’t disturb you!

Shouty Doris interjects

*Shuffle, shuffle, creak*  

Alright, Ridge-y boy, come and tell Doris all about it.

Right, now she’s gone, we don’t have to worry about major spoilers.  Although…I have to say that overall, I didn’t particularly connect with Ted as a character, despite his everyman status, apart from the shared experience of pet ownership and the inevitable existential angst – for ourselves or by proxy – with which many of us grapple.  I did find this to be an interesting, if not riveting, read and enjoyed how the author at least took a risk on the magical realism aspects to explore the more depressing parts of human existence and its inevitable finality.  The ending is hopeful and quite charming really, so if you are a fan of subtly humorous ponderings about the looming demise of each of us as individuals, and you love a cute dog story (for Lily truly is a little cutey, with a distinctive voice) then this would be a great pick.

Until next time,

Bruce (and Doris)

 

Great Expectations…Slightly Dashed by Misleading Blurbs…

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GREAT (1)It’s time for another Great Expectations review, in which I compare my soaring expectations with the reality (good or not so good) of actually reading the book.  Today I have three new release YA novels whose blurbs led me to have reasonably high expectations but whose execution didn’t quite match up.  None of them were bad books per se (although I did decide not to finish one of them) but I felt like I had been sucked in to requesting them under false blurby  pretences.  Let’s get on with it shall we?

First up, here’s the DNFer: The Finding of Martha Lost by Caroline Wallace, which we received from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Martha is lost.

She’s been lost since she was a baby, abandoned in a suitcase on the train from Paris. Ever since, she’s waited in station lost property for someone to claim her. It’s been sixteen years, but she’s still hopeful.

In the meantime, there are mysteries to solve: secret tunnels under the station, a suitcase that may have belonged to the Beatles, the roman soldier who appears at the same time every day with his packed lunch. Not to mention the stuffed monkey that someone keeps misplacing.

But there is one mystery Martha cannot solve. And now the authorities have found out about the girl in lost property. Time is running out – if Martha can’t discover who she really is, she will lose everything…

the finding of martha lost

What I Expected:

An absolutely crackingly quirky novel that combined all the excitement and urban mythology of train stations with all the mystery and intrigue of lost things all wrapped up in a cast of humorous, memorable characters.  Essentially, I was expecting a sort of cross between The Graveyard Book and a Peter Grant-esque tale of fascinating hidden worlds but without all the murders, ghosts and crazy magical stuff.  The cover is a bit of a tease in that direction too – that person fishing for sneakers is at least as tantalising and whimsical as anything promised in the blurb.

What I Got:

Now given that I DNFed this one at 21%, it may seem a bit presumptuous to start complaining that I didn’t come across certain things I was expecting, but the first fifth of this book was just not quirky enough to hold my interest.  I would have hoped that there would have been a bit of a secret tunnel or roman soldier within that 21% to whet my appetite, but no.  Just a remarkably ordinary (and annoyingly naïve) young girl and her friend who runs a café within the station.  I did find the whole “I can’t leave the station or it will collapse” concept a tad over the top for a sixteen year old protagonist even if she was subjected to some less-than-stellar adoptive parenting.  Overall, I wanted a touch of the ol’ magical realism, as seems to be promised in the blurb, but there was not a skerrick of it in the fifth that I read.  And as for a mention of the eternal stuffed monkey? Not a sausage.


 

The next two books were kindly sent to us for review from Simon & Schuster Australia.  Let’s start with Thanks for the Trouble by Tommy Wallach.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“I’ve got some questions for you. Was this story written about me?”

I shrugged.

“Yes or no?”

I shrugged again, finally earning a little scowl, which somehow made the girl even more pretty. It brought a bloom to her pale cheeks and made sharp shelves of her cheekbones.

“It’s very rude not to answer simple questions,” she said.

I gestured for my journal, but she still wouldn’t give it to me. So I took out my pen and wrote I can’t on my palm.

Then, in tiny letters below it, I finished the thought: Now don’t you feel like a jerk?

Parker Santé hasn’t spoken a word in five years. While his classmates plan for bright futures, he skips school to hang out in hotels, killing time by watching the guests. But when he meets a silver-haired girl named Zelda Toth, a girl who claims to be quite a bit older than she looks, he’ll discover there just might be a few things left worth living for.

thanks for the trouble

What I Expected:

In one hyphenated word, I expected time-travel.  The female protagonist claims to be at least 100 years old and I was hoping that there was going to be some snazzy time travel or at least time bending going on in the novel.  I won’t tell you what there is specifically, because that would be a spoiler, but be assured there is no time travel.  Not a sausage.

What I Got:

Once again, I am in the minority of opinion on this book if Goodreads is anything to go by, because over 176 ratings, this book has an average of 4.05 stars and I gave it two stars, which equates to “It was okay.”  It’s my own fault for reading things into the blurb that aren’t really there but this book turned out to be penned in that particular style of magical realism that I find especially irritating.  The kind that hints at something but in fact turns out to be something else that may or may not be perfectly ordinary and mundane.  I’ll have to stop hinting there myself, because I don’t want to give anything away.  I found that the story started off with an engaging setting: we meet Parker as he is deciding whether or not to steal a wad of cash from a beautiful lady in a hotel restaurant.  I will admit that I quite enjoyed the first third or so of the book and then I began to lose interest due to the slow slide into events such as young person banter and parties and various other bits that may well appeal to younger readers than I, but generally make my stony eyelids droop.

One thing that really confused me was the fact that early on, Parker is specifically described as a Latino male, of the sort that wouldn’t be welcome (or would be looked at sideways) if seated in the restaurant of a fancy hotel.  Why then, if Parker’s Latino heritage is so emphasised, did the designers choose a rather gormless looking white boy for the cover?   If you’re going to make a big thing about his ethnicity, being that diversity in protagonists is such a popular thing nowadays, why not make the person on the cover look less like a white guy and more like the minority he’s meant to be representing?  It boggles the mind.

The ending was more ambiguous than I expected and did redeem the book a little for me.  I was quite surprised that the author would go where he did with such a controversial topic, but go there he did and I think the book is the better for it.  Overall though, this was just an “okay” read that I wish had relied a bit more on the magical side of magical realism and taken things to a stranger, more mind-twisting level.


 

Finally we have a new adult murder mystery, All These Perfect Strangers by acclaimed Australian crime writer Aoife Clifford.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

‘This is about three deaths. Actually more, if you go back far enough. I say deaths, but perhaps all of them were murders. It’s a grey area. Murder, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. So let’s just call them deaths and say I was involved. This story could be told a hundred different ways.’

You don’t have to believe in ghosts for the dead to haunt you.

You don’t have to be a murderer to be guilty.

Within six months of Pen Sheppard starting university, three of her new friends are dead. Only Pen knows the reason why.

College life had seemed like a wonderland of sex, drugs and maybe even love. The perfect place to run away from your past and reinvent yourself. But Pen never can run far enough and when friendships are betrayed, her secrets are revealed. The consequences are deadly.

all these perfect strangers
What I Expected:
Suspense.  Mystery.  Mind-f*ckery.  A story that would have me puzzling and strategizing and trying to outwit the author in an epic tussle between one of the brightest lights in Australian crime fiction and the cleverest gargoyle getting about the shelf.

What I Got:

Long, drawn out descriptions of life as a first year in a university college (or dorm as our North American friends might refer to them).  It’s been a good long while since I sat on the shelf of a first-year undergraduate, but it appears that life is just as self-indulgent, narcissistic and populated with complete tools, for contemporary undergrads as it was for undergrads of the past.  The great emphasis on murder in the blurb of this book might lead one to believe that there would be a lot of murder-mystery type content going on in the story, but murder, while hinted at vaguely in Pen’s sessions with her psychotherapist, doesn’t really play a big part in the first third of the story.

When it does finally happen (in the present, rather than Pen’s past), the suspense doesn’t crank up even one tiny notch.  And as mysterious deaths keep happening, the suspense level remains at exactly the level at which it started – low.  I really couldn’t say for sure why I didn’t feel any suspense or need to puzzle things out while I was reading but I suspect it has something to do with the lack of information given at the beginning of the story.  We know that something happened involving Pen before she got to university, but it is touched upon so vaguely and with such round-about discussion, that I couldn’t really picture Pen as someone with a haunted past or the potential to be dangerous, because it was as if she had already put it behind her.  Similarly, many of here college-mates were so annoying or ineffectual that I was quite pleased when they met their respective ends.

I really wanted to love this and engage with it on an intellectual, can-I-outwit-the-author sort of a level, but there was just too much tedious, new adult, boring relationship melodrama and not enough devious plotting or red-herring-osity going down.  Shame really.

I am very interested in checking out some of Clifford’s other work now however, to see if this is just an errant blip for an otherwise kick-ass crime writer.  I suspect it might be the case.


So what do you think?  Have I been mislead in my expectations from reading these blurbs or have I read something into them that was never there?

Until next time,

Bruce

Yarning with Mad Martha about…Crochet Your Own Adventure (Let’s Go Camping!)..

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yarning with mad martha_Fotor (2)

I’m excited.

If you enjoy the outdoors, camping or textile crafts of any kind, then I have something today that will make your year.   It’s a crochet book by Kate Bruning (a canny Australian, don’t you know?) and it’s called Let’s Go Camping! From Cabins to Caravans Crochet Your Own Camping Adventure.

Finally!

A way to enjoy camping without having to worry about getting that horrid smoky smell out of my dreadlocks!

Now I know that title alone would have you bouncing on the balls of your feet and I will admit to being more than a little feverish when I discovered that Simon & Schuster Australia were deigning to send me a copy, but try and contain your excitement while you read the blurb – there’s plenty of time yet for giddy flailing!

Go glamping without the threat of unpredictable weather and nasty creepy crawlies, and instead crochet your own adorable camping scene that will keep any child entertained for hours and celebrate all that is great about camping.

Reminiscent of vintage camping memorabilia, you can create a nostalgic collection of crochet projects encompassing all aspects of outdoor life.

With mix and match projects ranging from vintage or Airstream caravans and ice cream trucks, to tents and teepees with all the camping paraphernalia of sleeping bags, backpacks and a log fire, as well as mountain and forest scenery you can create your own outdoor world. Or why not craft an alternative camping scene with a classic narrow boat, or a wooden lakeside cabin which can open up to reveal immaculately decorated insides.

Instructions for play mats will give children a fantastic base for playing, allowing them to create games and stimulate their own imagination.

let's go camping cover

Isn’t that cover scene just gorgeous? Being an avid crochet fan, I was itching to get at this tome and I nearly wept with joy at the innocent, light-hearted jollity with which the little Playmobil people were going about their outdoorsy business. The further I flicked through the playscenes, the more I was transported back to a simpler time when families had time to spend together and it didn’t really matter if dad insisted on wearing that silly towelling hat and tiny shorts, embarrassing you in front of the people from two caravans over.

Clearly, my crochet hooks could not remain inactive with such whimsical fun waiting to be created and so I dived into the patterns. Before I get into the technical nitty gritty, allow me to show you the fruits of my labour, as enjoyed by Bruce, Toothless and some Kiwi backpacker named Jono they picked up along the way:

camping wide shot 2_Fotor

As you can see, with the help of this book, I was able to create a natural, camping utopia in the climate-controlled environment of our own shelf! What a joy to see the excitement on Bruce’s stony face as he realised I could bring the outside in! Honestly, it’s moments like that that make this worthwhile.

Clearly, I only made a selection of things from the book – specifically the tent, the campfire, a mountain, a bobble hat and a scarf. I also whipped up a sun hat for Bruce to my own pattern. And while this picture may give the impression of a sweet, countryside idyll, it was about four rounds into completing the mountain – the first pattern that I tackled –that I realised that those of us who have taken up crafting since the advent of the internet have indeed been spoiled by sites like Pinterest and Youtube.

You see, when grabbing patterns from the internet, one often has the benefit of picture or video tutorials. This book was written in plain patterns and while this might be fine for more experienced crochet crafters, I suspect it would create steep learning curve for beginners.

I consider myself to be moderately skilled at crochet, but even I had some difficulties with items I thought I would find easy. Consider the mountain – mine being on the left and the image from the book on the right…

mountain_Fotor_Fotor_Collage

…while they are pretty close and I am happy with my finished mountain, I admit to wanting to stab myself in the eye with the crochet hook at multiple points during the making of it. This particular pattern has a number of fiddly bits that need to be sewn into the body of the pattern and without the benefit of imagery to guide me, I found it very tricky to figure out exactly how and where the insets were meant to be added.

Here’s my finished campfire, the crowning glory of our pretend camping adventure:

jonos bobble hat_Fotor

Again, I’m quite happy with the finished product, but again, it was fiddly and required a lot of sewing and the inclusion of a few bamboo skewers, which turned out to be more of a trial than I had anticipated. This was not the only project in the book that required bamboo skewers. The tent – which I found the easiest pattern to follow – also needed bamboo skewers added to create the structure (as well as straws, but I didn’t have any straws and frankly couldn’t be bothered going out to buy any).

Easy peasy, thought I, despite my experiences with the campfire logs.

Yeah. Not so much.

Although, I have always wanted to have one of those Pinterest “Nailed It!” photos to my name and making this tent allowed me to do it. Behold!

meme tent

So yeah, there were a lot of bits in the book that I found trickier than I thought they would be. Other bits, such as the hats and scarf, were great fun and super easy to complete. Toothless’s scarf was but the work of a moment and it was nothing at all to add a few tassels as requested by the recipient:

toothless scarf

Overall, I am very pleased to have found this book, but I would caution against jumping into the projects contained therein without proper preparation. The book suggests particular yarns and hook sizes, which I completely ignored because (a) I’m a rebel and (b) as I mentioned before, the whole “going out to purchase supplies” bother, but I have learned that following the pattern INCLUDING paying attention to the suggested materials often reaps better results.

Also, these patterns are probably going to take more time than you think, when you factor in the fiddly finishing off bits. But a book like this will just keep on giving when you consider that apart from giving detailed instructions for the creation of all manner of really cool items that can be used as toys, props and gifts, it is just a delight to flick through – both for aesthetics and inspiration.

I have to say thanks again to S&S Australia for providing me with a copy – you can be sure I’m not finished with the patterns just yet. We’re moving into summer after all.

Ice cream truck, anyone?

Yours in yarn,

Mad Martha