A Quirky Take on Parental Frailty: Goodbye, Vitamin…

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goodbye vitamin

I’ve read quite a number of books featuring characters with Alzheimer’s or dementia in my time, but I’ve never come across one quite like Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong.  We received a copy of this one from Simon & Schuster for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Ruth is thirty and her life is falling apart: she and her fiancé are moving house, but he’s moving out to live with another woman; her career is going nowhere; and then she learns that her father, a history professor beloved by his students, has Alzheimer’s. At Christmas, her mother begs her to stay on and help. For a year.

Goodbye, Vitamin is the wry, beautifully observed story of a woman at a crossroads, as Ruth and her friends attempt to shore up her father’s career; she and her mother obsess over the ambiguous health benefits – in the absence of a cure – of dried jellyfish supplements and vitamin pills; and they all try to forge a new relationship with the brilliant, childlike, irascible man her father has become.

Most books about Alzheimer’s that I’ve come across tend to feature, at some point during the story, a scene or scenes that really bring home to the reader the harrowing disease that Alzheimer’s is – the way it erases the personality and memories of an individual and shatters the familiar ways in which family and friends have connected with the sufferer throughout their lifetime.

Goodbye, Vitamin is nothing like that.

In fact, Goodbye, Vitamin forgoes the inevitable destruction of the human brain and any relationships in which said brain was involved, and instead focuses on the ways in which Ruth, chaotic and underachieving daughter of an Alzheimer’s-afflicted father, tries to adjust to a life put on hold, while she helps out her mother for “just a year”.

I must admit, it was quite refreshing to read a book featuring a character with Alzheimer’s and not come away feeling angsty and unsettled at the prospect of literally having one’s mind slowly eroded from within.

The book is written in a sort of diary format, as Ruth recounts events in chronological order during her year back at home.  I generally find diary-type books engaging and so it was in this case.  I tend to enjoy that the sections can be quite short and so I feel like I’m getting somewhere with the book quickly.  Having said that, this isn’t an overly hefty read and things move along apace from the moment Ruth decides to give it a year until the poignant but hopeful ending.

Ruth has a dry and self-deprecating sense of humour and manages to reminisce on both her broken past relationship and her childhood relationship with her father without being particularly maudlin, but highlighting the weirdness that we accept as everday life.  Her father’s ex-students play a surprising and uplifting role in attempting to halt her father’s decline and I had a bit of chuckle at their cloak and dagger antics as well as their finding new excuses to take their “classes” off campus.

As much as this is a story about the decline of a family member and a change in the parent-child relationship, it is also a story about the chaos of early adulthood – yes, even up to one’s thirties!  Ruth is in as much a period of flux as her father as she tries to forget past mistakes and forge a new path in her career and life in general.

I would recommend Goodbye, Vitamin if you are looking for a convivial tale about an unwanted mental guest and the ways in which people choose to remember.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A Maniacal Book Club Review: The Royal Rabbits of London…

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It’s middle grade reading time again and today’s book will be deconstructed with the help of the Maniacal Book Club.  The Royal Rabbits of London by Santa Montifiore and Simon Sebag Montifiore blends the sweet innocence of animal stories with the high-action world of secret agents, and we received our copy from Simon & Schuster Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Life is an adventure. Anything in the world is possible – by will and by luck, with a moist carrot, a wet nose and a slice of mad courage

Shylo has always been the runt of the litter, the weakest and quietest of all of his family, his siblings spend their days making fun of him for not being like the rest of them. But when Shylo stumbles across a band of ratzis and overhears their evil plan to take a photo of the Queen in her nightie, it’s up to this unlikely hero to travel to London and inform the Royal Rabbits of London about the diabolical plot! The Royal Rabbits of London have a proud history of protecting the royal family and now the secret society need to leap into action to stop the ratzis… But can a rabbit as feeble and shy as Shylo convince them that Queen is in danger?

The Hobbit meets Fantastic Mr Fox meets Watership Down in this charming novel from bestselling authors Santa and Sebag Montefiore, which proves even the smallest rabbit can be the biggest hero.

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Now let’s hand over to the Book Club!

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

In a world that is so concerned with outward appearances, it is difficult for those who do not fit stereotypical ideas of beauty to find value in themselves.  So it is as well, apparently, in the world of woodland creatures.  Shylo is diminutive when compared to others of his ilk and is consequently dismissed by those around him as without merit.  It takes but one soul to offer belief in his abilities and this belief, like a flame across a row of candles, takes hold and spurs Shylo on to achieve great things.  Take heed my friends, for here is a lesson for us all! Even the smallest rabbit in the burrow can play a starring role in defending all the side of good.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

There are no dragons in this book.  There are some very strange, sneaky rats though, that like to take photos of people and embarrass them.  There are some angry, snappy little dogs too and the rabbits don’t like them because these dogs like to eat rabbits.  I think I wouldn’t mind eating a rabbit.  Maybe. But not Shylo.

I like Shylo because he is brave but ordinary too.  And I like Horatio, the old bunny, because he is mysterious and has scars and no one knows how he got them.  I didn’t like Shylo’s big brother.  He’s a meanie.  Maybe I could try eating him for my first taste of rabbit.

That would teach him.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

 

Who is hiding ‘neath that tree?

A red-pawed rabbit I can see!

Do you think he’ll play with me?

He looks as if he’s too busy!

Where’s he gone so hurriedly?

To save the Queen for you and me!

Bruce

maniacal book club brucePlease excuse me a moment while I inwardly bemoan Mad Martha’s increasingly appalling poetry……right, that’s done.  The Royal Rabbits of London is a delightful read for youngsters with an underlying gentleness that balances out the scenes of action and close escape.  Shylo Tawny-Tail is the runt of his litter and his older, bigger siblings miss no opportunity to remind him of this fact.  Shylo finds refuge with the elderly Horatio rabbit, who tells him stories of the Royal Rabbits of London, a secret society of agent rabbits living under Buckingham Palace, whose job it is to protect the Royal Family.

When Shylo overhears a plot to embarrass the Queen, he is suddenly thrust into a much more exciting life, as he attempts to contact the mysterious and reclusive Royal Rabbits and make them aware of the pending plot.  The first part of the book has a bit of a town-mouse, country-mouse feel (except with rabbits!), as Shylo ventures forth from the safety of his burrow and steps out into the dangers of the big city.  After making contact with the Royal Rabbits, Shylo finds himself caught up in a high-stakes adventure that might result in saving the Queen – at the expense of some rabbity lives.

Reading a chapter of this book per night was the perfect way to build the tension in the story and keep my interest up.  The text is ideal for young readers who are newly confident with longer chapter books and the story is illustrated throughout with beguiling line drawings that help bring the characters to vivid life.  Shylo shows such strength of spirit that I am certain young readers will just love him and be caught up in the challenges he faces.  There are a few (reasonably) scary (for young children) scenes toward the end of the book as Shylo and his friends attempt to escape from the Pack – the resident dogs of Buckingham Palace – but overall, the story has an innocence about it despite the high-tech, battle ready situation of the Royal Rabbits.

The rabbits who make up the secret society all have their own larger-than-life personalities and adult readers will notice some nods to the sorts of characters who populate grown-up spy stories in these furry fellows.  The world of the Royal Rabbits is also richly imagined, filled with structure, hierarchy, and international co-operation.

The ending of this book is not left up in the air, so can be enjoyed on its own, but for those thirsting for more adventure, a second book in this series will be published in 2017.  Overall, this is a delightful, engaging and colourful foray into the hidden world of animal secret agents!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

 

Shouty Doris Interjects during… The Women in the Walls!

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Shouty Doris interjects

It’s been a while, but today Shouty Doris is back to interject during my review of The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics, a YA thriller that we received for review from Simon & Schuster Australia.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.  

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

women-in-the-walls

Before we get into it I have to ask: Doris, where have you been for so long?

Shouty Doris interjects

Washing my hair.

For seven months?

Shouty Doris interjects

Yes.

But surely you couldn’t ha —

Shouty Doris interjects

Just get on with it Bruce.

Haven’t lost your charming personality, I see, Doris.  Right.  Let’s crack on.  Just a warning – there will be some spoilers in this review.    

I had high hopes for The Women in the Walls when I requested it for review.  The blurb sounded spooky and mysterious, the cover was creepy, with a hint of old-time menace.  I honestly thought that this would be a five-star read and something I would thoroughly relish.  But….

Shouty Doris interjects

It wasn’t.

Well, quite.  From the very first chapter I started to have misgivings about how creepy this book would turn out to be, mostly because from the very start it seemed that the author was having trouble getting a handle on her protagonist’s voice.  I was finding it hard to pick up from the dialogue, thoughts and actions of Lucy, the main character, just what kind of a person she was – what made her tick, what her strengths might be…in short, who she was going to be as a character.  But, I decided to press on regardless because I didn’t want to give up on the prospect of creepy voices in the walls.

Shouty Doris interjects

Well, that was a mistake.  

How so?

Shouty Doris interjects

The voice problem never gets any better.  It’s like the author decided to pick obvious, wooden dialogue for all the characters and just throw it at the page in the hope that it would create a spooky atmosphere.  Quite frankly, I would have been happy if the walls had collapsed on the lot of them by the end of chapter five.  Spoilt, selfish brats, all.  Even the adults.

You’ve got a point there, Doris.  None of the main characters – Lucy, her cousin Margaret, and Lucy’s father – were particularly likable and none were developed in any deep way.  We get told (through Lucy’s thought processes) about the various tragedies that have befallen each of them, but their behaviour toward each other is so cold and unlikely that I couldn’t muster up the motivation to care about what happened to any of them.  Yet still I pushed on, hoping for the atmosphere to take a turn for the creepy.

Shouty Doris interjects

Strike two!  The author doesn’t know anything about creepy.  There’s no suspense, no atmosphere, no tension; just a bunch of whinging young girls bickering and some supposedly spooky happenings plucked out of thin air and slapped down in front of us with no build up.  I think the author was going for shock value rather than bothering to craft a story that felt suspenseful.  It’s like bringing a bag of salt and vinegar chips to a party – people will be disgusted on first seeing them, but it won’t leave a lasting impression (luckily for you.  Who brings salt and vinegar chips to a party?)

I’d have to agree, Doris.  I was hoping for this to be a real psychological thriller, with voices in the walls causing madness and mayhem to ensue.  It does ensue, admittedly, but the execution is so ham-fisted and unsubtle that any sense of tension is completely lost.  There are a couple of violent and outwardly gruesome scenes – Margaret’s death being one of them – that the author describes in detail and then keeps bringing up, as if to try and raise the scare factor, but the narration and plot arc are so clumsy and signposted that these scenes feel like they’ve been included simply to add a bit of gore to the book.

There were also parts of the narration that made absolutely no sense.  My particular favourite of these is Lucy noting, after Margaret’s brutal and frankly dubious (according to the laws of physics) method of suicide – she throws herself out of a window, landing on a spiked fence, causing her to be impaled through both body and head, in case you’re wondering – that she had no idea why Margaret did what she did.

Shouty Doris interjects

HA!! Yes, that had me chuckling a bit too.  No idea why she did what she did? Really, girly? So the inappropriate giggling in the middle of the night, the claim about hearing voices of dead relatives, the scribbling out her mother’s face in every photograph in the house, the waking to find her standing over you with scissors, the dissection of a rat, the previous gruesome suicide of another member of the household ….none of this gave you a hint that Margaret was unhinged and might do something even more unexpected? Like launch herself out of an unfastened window onto a fence worthy of Vlad the Impaler’s summer home?

Exactly.  That, and the intermittent introspection about “Did I ever really know *Margaret/Penelope/My Father/insert name of character here* at all?” felt stilted and pedestrian and did nothing to add any depth or realism to Lucy as a character.

I think the author had some good ideas for a truly creepy story here, but the execution is amateurish.  There are supposedly interweaving plotlines involving magic, the disappearance of Margaret’s mother and the involvement of a country club, but the author couldn’t seem to bring these together in a coherent, suspenseful story.  Every time I felt any kind of suspense building, the author would cut to a scene that allowed the suspense to deflate.  The parties with the country club were a big culprit here.  I mean, her aunt has disappeared, her cousin has killed herself and Lucy is quite content to hang out with her father’s country club buddies?

Shouty Doris interjects

I don’t know why you bothered to finish it.

Weeeellll.  I didn’t.  I pushed on for 227 pages and then I just couldn’t face wading through any more stilted, disconnected events narrated by a bitchy, self-centred teen.  It’s sort of my two-fingered salute to the book for not being what I expected.

Shouty Doris interjects

I’m sure the author is cut to the bone that you read seven eighths of the book and then put it down in protest.

Yeah, yeah.  I just honestly kept hoping it would get better.

Shouty Doris interjects

Let that be a lesson to you, boyo.  Now, I have to go and wash my hair.

But didn’t you just wa —

Shouty Doris interjects

Get on with it.

Right.

In case you haven’t picked up on my mood yet, I was disappointed with this one, but at least I know I gave it every chance.  Have you read The Women in the Walls?  What did you think?

Until next time,

Bruce

A Mini DNF-a-Thon: DNFs with Potential…

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I have had a mini-swathe of DNFed books of late so I thought I’d share them here in case there are any of you whose interest is piqued by their content.  I hasten to add that none of the following books is bad in any major way, but they just didn’t really suit my tastes or my mindset at the time of reading, possibly because two out of three of them came unsolicited from the publishers. Here we go then.

The Diabolic (S. J. Kincaid)

*We received this one from Simon & Schuster for review * 

Categories: YA, science fiction, speculative fiction, playing politics, survival the-diabolic

DNF’ed at: page 77

Comments:

This one was sent unsolicited (ie: I didn’t request it) for review, so I wasn’t initially sure what I was getting into.  I was actually quite engaged during the first section of the book, but as soon as Nemesis got on the ship to head off to intergalactic court to impersonate her mistress, I lost interest.  This book is getting absolute rave reviews all over the place though, and my loss of interest may have had more to do with being too busy to focus on it, rather than the book suddenly becoming uninteresting.  I may well pick this one up again in the future and would recommend it to fans of sci-fi or YA that isn’t set in your typical fantasy or contemporary worlds.


The Fifth Avenue Artists Society (Joy Callaway)

*We were sent this one for review from Allen & Unwin*

Categories: Adult fiction, historical fiction, period romance  fifth-avenue-artists-society

DNF’ed at: page 36

Comments:

This one was also unsolicited, but I like a good period piece as much as the next gargoyle so I thought I’d give it a crack.  I could have probably found myself enjoying this if I didn’t have a whole bunch of books lying around waiting to be read, honestly, but overall this one was a bit too out-of-period for me.  I prefer my historical fiction from this era to be British rather than American.  There were a few turns of phrase in the dialogue and in the general writing that hit me as slightly out of place, but again, if I was an ordinary reader who read one book at a time, I may have found more to enjoy here.  This one is a victim of just not being my thing.  But it might be yours!


The Amateurs (Sarah Shepard)

*We received this one from Allen & Unwin for review*

Categories: YA, murder mystery the-amateurs

DNF’ed at: chapter ten

Comments:

This was a definite fail for me.  I was excited to read it because it features a group of amateur sleuths who chat online and try to solve cold cases.  Just my thing, I thought!  Unfortunately, the author insists on going off at annoying tangents by having her characters constantly reflect inwardly about various peoples’ hotness and whether they should really be hanging out with this person or encouraging advances from that person’s running coach, ad nauseum. I just wanted to know about the murder mystery, kids – save your adolescent angst for a romance book!  While I really did want to know who murdered Helena Kelly, I wasn’t prepared to wade through a bunch of cliched tripe-filled characters to find out.  Shame really.


Have you read any of these?  What did you think?

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Enticing YA” Edition…

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If you are fan of young adult literature, be it quirky-cute romance, gripping historical fiction, paranormal menace or angsty growing-up tale, you will no doubt want to saddle up and ride with us today.  I have four enticing YA titles for you, each with its own niche audience, so scroll on down and see what you can round up!

Hotel for the Lost (Suzanne Young)

*We received a copy of Hotel for the Lost from Simon & Schuster Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  hotel-for-the-lost

Audrey and her brother Daniel are being driven to their grandmother’s house, to take a break after their mother’s untimely death three months earlier. After stopping for the night at a hotel, the family dynamic seems more functional…but that’s only the first of a lot of strange things that are going on at the Hotel Ruby.

Muster up the motivation because…

…There’s a lot of ghosty goodness going on in this one that will have you guessing ahead to try and figure out the mystery before the big reveal.  I happened to be reading this one around Halloween time and it was charmingly atmospheric, what with its big gothic hotel in a lonely setting, odd nightly parties and collection of delightfully (and in some cases, creepily) bizarre guests.  Audrey is stuck down a well of grief and guilt since her mother’s death, while her brother Daniel is surly and their father seems to have mentally checked out.  On arrival  at the Ruby, things start looking up, but it isn’t long before Audrey starts to notice cracks in the hotel’s posh facade, not least of which being the overlord-like attitude of the concierge.  As Audrey meets more guests and her father becomes more and more plugged in to the family, Audrey decides that things might be looking up and it won’t be so hard to hang out for a few days until the family checks out, despite a few hard-to-explain incidents.  As ghostly, paranormal stories go, this one has plenty of threads to both entice and confuse the reader, with clues about the mystery dropped left, right and centre: there’s the mystery of the invitation-only nightly party, the tragic history of the building, the gossip about some of the guests and the strange flashes of vision that Audrey is experiencing.  I know I was hurriedly trying to piece together the tidbits of information in order to figure out what was going on before the reveal.  I suspect that experienced readers of paranormal stories will pick the obvious signs early on, but there were definitely a few aspects of the reveal that I did not see coming.  I was quite impressed with the ending that Young chose to go with here, because it is a bit more ambiguous and dark than I would have expected.  Overall, this was a fun read, albeit a tad predictable in places, that will satisfy those looking for an atmospheric story that will give a whole new meaning to the term “life of the party”.

Brand it with:

Complimentary late check-out; all in the family; what goes on below stairs

The Graces (Laure Eve)

*We received a copy of The Graces from Allen & Unwin for review*

the-graces

The Graces by Laure Eve. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016. RRP: $19.99

Two Sentence Synopsis: 

River is starting afresh at a new school and like everyone else, is drawn to the Grace siblings like a moth to a flame. When River manages to form a friendship with Summer Grace, her life becomes all that she wants it to be…but are the rumours of a Grace curse true?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a deep exploration of identity, loyalty, belonging and exerting one’s power in the fraught social world of the teenage years.  I didn’t think that I would be pulled in to The Graces as much as I was, but I was quickly won over by the focus on character development and the ways in which people will lie, keep secrets and remake themselves in order to fit in.  Everyone in River’s town believe that the Grace family are witches.  The three Grace siblings – twins, Fenrin and Tahlia, and younger sister Summer – float through school untouched by the problems of the common people, despite rumours of revenge and trouble that may have been dished out to those who defied the Graces in the past.  River, desperate to remake herself in this new environment, is somehow able to find her way into Summer’s good graces, and from there into the Grace family itself.  What she discovers is a tight-knit, exclusionary, possibly paranoid vision of their place in the world – a place she wants to share.  For the most part, this story is one firmly grounded in human relationships – parents exerting their will (and fears) on children, sibling loyalty, friendship defined by secrecy – but towards the end, a more obvious element of fantasy emerges.  I was slightly disappointed by this, because I thought that the character development and psychological twisting and turning between the Grace siblings and River was compelling enough that the story didn’t need any fantastical trappings.  Also, the fantasy element shows the story up as a series-opener, which heightened my disappointment.  I felt that this story had everything it needed to pack a memorable and thought-provoking punch contained within its pages, without having to add anything other-wordly to the story, and I don’t want to see that watered down by a focus in the next book on fantasy, rather than human nature.  Despite that little niggle at the end, I can heartily recommend this to readers of YA who are looking for an examination of human relationships and the price one might be willing to pay in order to be included.

Brand it with:

One of us; On the outer; Believing the rumours

The Lie Tree: Illustrated Edition (Frances Hardinge & Chris Riddell)

*We received a copy of The Lie Tree from PanMacmillan Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the-lie-tree

Faith yearns to take a place alongside her famous scientist father, but is constrained by the social restrictions imposed on women of her time. When the family moves to an island to escape a scandal, Faith takes her chance to assume the mantle of natural scientist over a very strange plant indeed – and finds herself embroiled in a mystery that challenges all the assumptions that her father held dear.

Muster up the motivation because…

…Frances Hardinge is a class apart when it comes to writing for young people.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that her books aren’t really young people’s books at all, but adult-reader-worthy books that happen to feature young protagonists.  Having read plenty of Hardinge’s work before, I knew pretty well what I was in for with The Lie Tree, and that was exactly what I got: absorbing, evocative prose, strong female characters with obvious, yet useful flaws, plot twists, and an atmosphere that perfectly reflected the oppressive situation in which the protagonist finds herself.  Faith is the eldest daughter of an (until-recently) esteemed natural scientist, who finds herself and her family spirited away to a remote island to avoid a scandal related to her father’s work.  After uncovering some of her father’s secrets through slyness and stealth, Faith is presented with an opportunity to observe a mythical plant whose discovery could change the world.  The story, like much of Hardinge’s work, unfolds slowly, with important information drip-fed to the reader.  The historical setting of this particular tale added a great deal to the atmosphere, as did the focus on gender-based restrictions that require Faith to undertake much of her investigation covertly.  This book really is absorbing, playing on ideas about the power of suggestion to create fear and generate a social environment which, already enmeshed in class-based strata and strict observance of propriety, is ripe for the dissemination of falsehood as truth, and opinion as fact.  I received the illustrated edition of the book to review, with illustrations completed by (who other than) Chris Riddell, yet I found that the illustrations didn’t add a great deal to my experience of the book.  Obviously, the illustrations are gorgeous and I enjoyed flicking across a full page line drawing every now and then in such a long book, but the narrative carries itself here, with Hardinge’s narrative imagery working its own magic.  Riddell’s illustrative style is particularly suited to the dour, historical atmosphere of the story however and admittedly, it was fun to see the portrayals of characters whose physical features are as unflattering as their personalities. I would definitely recommend The Lie Tree to those who are already fans of Hardinge’s work, featuring as it does a similar dark and foreboding atmosphere as her recent publications, Cuckoo Song and A Face Like Glass. If you are a fan of historical fiction that carries a touch of the subversive, and are looking for a good mystery with a slightly magical twist, then you will find plenty to entice you with The Lie Tree.

Brand it with:

Keeping one’s enemies close; the stealth-inducing properties of crepe; born to be wild

The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily (Rachel Cohn & David Levithan)

* We received a copy of The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

The Twelve Days of Dash and Llily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016.  RRP: $19.99

The Twelve Days of Dash and Llily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016. RRP: $19.99

Dash is concerned about his relationship with Lily, while Lily is depressed about her grandfather, Christmas and her relationship with Dash. Dash decides to break with tradition and surprise Lily with twelve days of happiness before Christmas to try and get their mutual groove back.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you were a fan of the first book in this series (which I have not read), you will no doubt go ga-ga for this charming, festive offering.  I really wanted to like this one, not least because of the delightful, quirky cover design, but I ended up DNFing at 68 pages.  Romance and romantic relationships are just not my thing in fiction, but I can see why there was so much buzz about the first book in the series.  The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Dash and Lily.  Dash opened this book, and I quickly found his self-deprecating dry humour quite disarming.  I thought that I might actually find myself falling for a romance book!  Then Lily took the helm and I just found her a bit too sheltered for my liking.  When you are nearly 18 and can’t get over the fact that you don’t feel all that Christmassy at Christmas, I think you need to step out of your #firstworldproblems for a moment and appreciate what you’ve got.  I did make the decision to put the book down during one of Lily’s sections, mostly because I didn’t think I could handle reading about such a young-seeming character as an adult reader.  I can certainly see the appeal of the book and the series however and should warn you not to let my curmudgeonly attitude toward unspoiled, innocent souls put you off reading it if you are in the mood for a Christmassy, feelgood story.

Brand it with:

Christmas knits; holiday romance; Dash-ing through the not-snow

Surely there is something amongst these offerings to ignite the YA gleam in your eye and have you rushing out to muster up one of these titles!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Surprising YA” Edition…

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I hope you aren’t too saddle sore from our Mega Supersized Round-Up earlier in the week, because I now have three YA titles for you that you will definitely want to be sizing up.  I’ve got historical fiction, fantasy and a bit of weird science for you, so we’d better get straight to it!

These Shallow Graves (Jennifer Donnelly)

*We received a copy of These Shallow Graves from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis: 

these shallow graves

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly  Published by Allen & Unwin, 22nd June 2016.  RRP: $16.99

 

Josephine Montfort comes from one of New York’s most wealthy families, but harbours a secret desire to be a journalist, uncovering the lives of the poor and downtrodden. When her father dies, apparently from suicide, Josephine decides to go out on a limb, putting her journalistic skills to the test in an investigation that will have major ramifications for her family…and herself, if she is discovered.

Muster up the motivation because…

It’s quite refreshing to see a historical murder mystery that isn’t set in Victorian England.  While all the manners and social proprieties are still there, These Shallow Graves has a slightly different flavour, as the “new” and “old” money families battle it out in an unspoken war to be the most prominent.  There’s even a particularly mouthy grandmother character who reminded me strongly of Shouty Doris!  Josephine is a character that young female readers will immediately be drawn to – fiercely independent despite her coddled existence, with a desire to step out of the boundaries that society has set for her.  I enjoyed how the author doesn’t try to make Jo more worldly than she could possibly have been, given her upbringing.  As she discovers more about the seedier side of life, it’s obvious that Jo is undergoing rapid personal growth and making decisions about who she will be in her pre-destined world.  There is the obligatory love triangle, between Jo, her intended marital match and Ed, the young journalist far below Jo’s lofty station who assists Jo in her investigations.  As far as the murder mystery goes, I wasn’t entirely gripped by these elements and would have preferred things on that front to move a lot faster.  The book is more a 50/50 split between romance and mystery however, and with romance not really being my thing, I didn’t end up loving this one but found it easy to get into nonetheless.  I’d definitely recommend this one to fans of historical fiction and particularly historical cosy mysteries, who are looking for a slight change of pace from the English mysteries that seem to be this genre’s bread and butter.

Brand it with:

Sisters doin’ it for themselves, investigative journalism, sticking up for the little guy

Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend (Alan Cumyn)

* We received a copy of Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend from Simon & Schuster Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis: hot pterodactyl boyfriend

Shiels is in her final year of high school, the student-body chair, has definite plans about studying political sociology at college after she graduates and can count on Sheldon, her boyfriend-fixture, to support her in everything she does. Then Pyke, a pterodactyl, turns up to attend Vista View High and Shiels’ carefully laid plans go awry.

Muster up the motivation because…

How could you not want to read this, with a title like Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend??  I remember being desperate to get my claws on this one when it was released and now that I’ve read it, it was entirely not what I was expecting!  I was thinking that this must be a comedy.  Had to be.  But surprisingly, this is actually a really down-to-earth story of a girl whose plans have been hit for a six, that just happens to include an actual pterodactyl as a character.  After reading it, I can see that this could be any typical YA story wherein the main character undergoes massive personal upheaval due to an unexpected occurrence – an illness, the death of a loved one, someone coming out, a friendship breakdown – but the particular unexpected occurrence featured here is Shiels falling in love with a pterodactyl.  If you can get your head around that, then you’ll be far more prepared than I going into the reading experience.  Having said that, I quickly became absorbed by Shiels’ story.  She’s a likeable character despite the fact that she has quite glaring personality flaws that cause problems in her relationships.  The situations she gets caught up in – apart from the whole pterodactyl thing, obviously – are believable and readers in the target age group should be able to relate.  I did find my interest waning a little around two-thirds of the way into the book, but I enjoyed the ending (which dipped into the “utterly bizarre” category of magical realism – or should that be “prehistoric realism”?) and overall I think this is a solid and engaging read with one big, flapping, screeching point of difference.  Having had a look on Goodreads, the ratings are completely split in a loved it/hated it divide, but I definitely enjoyed this one even though it didn’t turn out to be the comedy I expected it to be.

Brand it with:

I believe I can fly, diversity in education, prehistoric problems

The Witch’s Kiss (Katharine & Elizabeth Corr)

*We received a copy of The Witch’s Kiss from HarperCollins Australia for review* 

Two Sentence Synopsis: the witchs kiss

For Merry, being a witch hasn’t ever been much of a problem…until her actions nearly cost her boyfriend his life. But if she thought that was the worst that might happen, Merry is sadly mistaken – because an ancient curse is about to surface and Merry will need every ounce of her ability to safeguard the people of her town, or die in the attempt.

Muster up the motivation because…

I found this to be a solid, well-constructed story with just the right blend of contemporary teen angst and historical magical curse.  I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this book, as I was worried that the romance elements might overpower the fantasy elements of the story.  I should not have feared though, because the authors manage to balance those two parts masterfully, so that the inevitable romance between Jack and Merry neatly complements the heart-stabbing, murderous, magical bits.  It was super refreshing to see a strong sister-brother partnership as the main protagonists, and Leo is a great balance to Merry’s impulsiveness and tendency toward pessimism.  The story alternates between the present day, as Merry and Leo attempt to stop the King of Hearts, who is carrying out random attacks on innocent people in their town, and hundreds of years ago, when the curse on the King of Hearts originated.  As Merry becomes more involved in the curse unfolding in the present day, her links to her ancestors become clearer, and the ending deftly brings these two periods in history together at a cracking pace.  The only problem I had with this book is that it is a series-opener.  To me, this is the perfect kind of story for a standalone – the ending is not left as a cliffhanger and I felt like all the loose ends were tied up.  Sometimes I like to know that on finishing a book, I have experienced all there is to experience with a set of characters and I am happy to have done so.  I’m not entirely sure where the story will go in a sequel, but I was perfectly satisfied with this one as an entity in itself.  I’d recommend this to those who love fantasy stories that have a fable-type feel with a contemporary twist, and don’t mind a little bit of romance to tie things together.

Brand it with:

Which witch is which?, Curse you!, Unrequited love

Three very different YA titles for you here – surely there’s something you want to get your hands on?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

How Not To Disappear: A Top Book of 2016 Pick!

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Bruce's Pick

Ding Ding Ding! It’s another Top Book of 2016!

How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss is a YA road-trip novel featuring dementia, secret pregnancy and lots and lots of gin slings.  We were lucky enough to receive a copy from Simon & Shuster Australia for review – thanks!  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Hattie’s summer isn’t going as planned. Her two best friends have abandoned her: Reuben has run off to Europe to “find himself” and Kat’s in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Meanwhile Hattie is stuck babysitting her twin siblings and dealing with endless drama around her mum’s wedding. Oh, and she’s also just discovered that she’s pregnant with Reuben’s baby… Then Gloria, Hattie’s great-aunt who no one previously knew even existed comes crashing into her life. Gloria’s fiercely independent, rather too fond of a gin sling and is in the early stages of dementia. Together the two of them set out on a road trip of self-discovery – Gloria to finally confront the secrets of her past before they are wiped from her memory forever and Hattie to face the hard choices that will determine her future.

how not to disappear

Apart from the excessive drinking that no one on the shelf (except for Shouty Doris) really goes in for, this book had everything we enjoy in a good novel:  England (Whitby in particular), road trips, poor decision making, flashbacks and snarky elderly ladies.  I’ll be honest with you – it was a slow-burn decision to nominate this book as a Top Book of 2016, but the ending is so sensitively written that it would be a travesty for us to leave it off the list.

The narrative moves back and forth between the present (narrated by Hattie) and the past (narrated by Gloria) and so the reader slowly discovers the events that have led Gloria to her current living conditions.  It is made clear from the start that Gloria’s past was not a happy place and as Hattie finds out more about Gloria and Gwen (Hattie’s grandmother), she begins to question whether or not the road trip down unhappy-memory lane was such a good idea.

It is obvious to the reader pretty early on that Gloria must have experienced some life events that might resonate with Hattie’s current condition and so it turns out to be.  The first half of the book unfolds much as one might expect it to, with Hattie wavering over what to do about her pregnancy, and Gloria wielding pointy, pointy words with a mastery that comes from a lifetime of practice.

It is the second half, or possibly final third, of this book which really sets it apart from the common herd.  For a start, there are a few twists in Gloria’s tale that I didn’t see coming until they were upon me, and Hattie’s character development goes into overdrive.  The final chapters, which focus on life for the two ladies post-road-trip are moving and authentic and really touched this old gargoyle’s stony heart.

The best recommendation for How Not To Disappear I can give is that it is a story that transcends its YA categorisation.  Sure, the main character is a young person, with young person friends, dealing with young person problems, but the story as a whole avoids YA tropes and clichés and allows Hattie to be read as a protagonist in an adult fiction novel.  If you are after a contemporary read that is funny, realistic and moving and approaches the legacy of damaged family ties with real authenticity then you could do a lot worse than picking up How Not to Disappear.

Until next time,

Bruce