Australia Day Giveaway Hop 2016!

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It’s nearly Australia Day (or Invasion Day or Survival Day, depending on your heredity and perspective – the Shelf offers respect and acknowledgement to the successes and struggles of the Indigenous mobs of this land) so that must mean it’s time to give away books!  Thanks to Book’d Out for hosting this happy hop which runs from the 24th to the 27th of January.

I have a selection of Aussie print books on offer today and one winner from anywhere in the world will be able to take their choice of one book from the selection.  There are picture books, YA and MG books and one adult fiction, including a couple of my Top Books of 2015.  Click on the photo for my reviews of the books or the links to Goodreads.  Here are the books the winner can choose from:

australia to z giveaway   skeleton xray giveaway     olive of groves giveaway

the beauty is in the walking giveaway  in the skin of a monster giveaway  gun control giveaway

To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter link below – Ts and Cs are available at the link:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Remember, this is a hop, so don’t forget to visit the other participating blogs here!

Good luck 😀

Until next time,

Bruce
https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Best of 2015 Giveaway Hop!

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best of 2015 giveaway hop

Welcome to my stop on the Best of 2015 Giveaway Hop, hosted by Bookhounds and I Am a Reader, Not a Writer and running from the 11th to 18th of December.  This giveaway is all about the best books of the year, so I am offering one winner their choice of any book from my Goodreads “Top Books of 2015” shelf.

The giveaway will be open internationally, provided the Book Depository ships to your country for free.  Please note also that because the giveaway closes on December 18th, it is highly unlikely that your prize will reach you by Christmas, if that is what you are hoping.  To enter and for the other Ts & Cs, click on the Rafflecopter link below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And as this is a hop, I encourage you to visit the other participating blogs and see what goodies are on offer:

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

An MG Double-Dip, A Top Book of 2015 and a Giveaway!

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imageWelcome to a very special Double Dip review and giveaway! Today I have two books for a middle-grade audience that were kindly provided to the shelf for review by HarperCollins Australia – thanks! – and that would make perfect stocking stuffers for a worthy young person of your acquaintance.  One of these is hands-down one of my TOP BOOKS OF 2015! Read on for details on how to enter the giveaway – I will be providing one winner with their choice of one of these books! Hurrah!

Let’s get on with it!

First up is my TOP BOOK OF 2015 pick – The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Archer B. Helmsley has grown up in a house full of oddities and treasures collected by his grandparents, the famous explorers. He knows every nook and cranny. He knows them all too well. After all, ever since his grandparents went missing on an iceberg, his mother barely lets him leave the house.

Archer B. Helmsley longs for adventure. Grand adventures, with parachutes and exotic sunsets and interesting characters. But how can he have an adventure when he can’t leave his house?

It helps that he has friends like Adélaïde L. Belmont, who must have had many adventures since she ended up with a wooden leg. (Perhaps a crocodile ate it. Perhaps not.) And Oliver Glub. Oliver will worry about all the details (so that Archer doesn’t have to).

And so Archer, Adélaïde, and Oliver make a plan. A plan to get out of the house, out of their town entirely. It’s a good plan.

Well, it’s not bad, anyway.

But nothing goes quite as they expect.

Dip into it for…

…a gently unfolding story of friendship and breaching self-imposed limits.  Before I get into dissecting the story, let medoldrums point out that the lovely hardback edition to which I was given access is illustrated throughout with FULL PAGE, FULL COLOUR illustrations that are just exquisite and lend that extra bit of specialness to the book.  The story begins by introducing us to Archer B. Helmsley, his unusual family circumstances and desire to break out of his mother’s overprotective clutches.  Soon enough, Oliver Glub (it’s good to be a Glub!), Archer’s next door neighbour and schoolmate, joins the fray, lending the voice of reason to Archer’s ill-thought-out plans.  Finally, just when the reader thinks they have learned all there is to learn about Archer and Oliver, and can predict how the story will unfold, we are introduced to Adelaide, French immigrant, ex-ballet dancer, and possessor of one wooden leg (possibly oak).  Adelaide was the real stand-out character for me and I absolutely adored the way that she was rendered by the author – confident but not sassy, self-possessed but not selfish and exceptional but not freakish.

The story is filled with dry, subtle humour and an atmosphere that suggests that anything is possible, despite the fact that most of Archer’s plans are foiled by fate or foe quite early on in proceedings.

Don’t dip if…

…you are expecting a story replete with action and conquest.  While there is some action in the story, not least of which being the unexpectedly life-threatening ending, the story focuses more on the developing friendship between the three protagonists and mystery surrounding the disappearance of Archer’s grandparents.  In a sense, Archer is caught in the doldrums in this story, and the adventure is more in the incidental surprises thrown up by an ordinary life rather than those encountered by well-travelled explorers.

Overall Dip Factor

Being a regular reviewer means that I am granted access, on occasion to some very high quality books.  The Doldrums really blew me away with how beautifully produced this hardback edition is – it’s something unusual and provided a wonderful print reading experience (which is why I’m not giving my copy away!!).  Just in terms of its look and feel, this book would make a great “Wow!” book to slip into a Christmas stocking.  The story is also unusual in that I expected, from the first few chapters, that the plot would quickly set up the mystery of Archer’s grandparents, provide some useful friends for Archer, and send them off on a whirlwind, whacky adventure.  Much more is going on in the story however, and it is definitely worth a look for young and older readers who enjoy subtle humour, a touch of the ridiculous and characters that you will want to be friends with, long after you’ve finished the book.

Now onto some Aussie middle-grade, also illustrated throughout and featuring a touch of the ridiculous – Olive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad and illustrated by Lucia Masciullo.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Olive has always dreamed of attending boarding school, but Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers is not what she expected. To tell the truth, dear reader, it is not what anyone expected!


The headmistress is completely bonkers and Pig McKenzie, school bully and all-round nasty swine, is determined to make Olive’s life unbearable.


Olive, however, is clever, sweet and kind, and soon gains the loyalty and devotion of three rats, a short-sighted moose, a compulsive liar and a goose who faints at the sight of cherries.


But will friendship and wits be enough when Pig McKenzie puts his Truly Wicked Plan into gear? Or will Olive be cast out of Groves forever?

Dip into it for…

…the kind of school that kids have longed to attend since time immemorial.  Groves is a school in which explosions, mess, general naughtiness, high-flying acrobatics, and throwing one’s dinner around the room are commonplace.  It olive of grovesalso features a wonderfully diverse group of talking animals as students – including my favourite, the perpetually anxious goose, Glenda (Oh, mercy!) – and a headmistress who turns a blind eye to practically every strange thing happening in her school.  Olive is a charming, steadfast, courageous young lass who does a wonderful job of making the best of a very tricky (and in some cases, literally sticky) situation and with the help of her ratty roommates, sets about proving that she is not a perfectly ordinary girl and deserves a place at Groves, in all its diverse glory, even if she has to scale a highwire wearing only tatty old long-johns to prove it.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re expecting a story that makes a lot of sense.  I suspect that this is one of those stories that will appeal to kids much more than adult readers of middle grade (although its complexity did grow significantly toward the end), but if you’re not into characters that are over-the-top and general silliness abounding, then this book is probably not for you.

Overall Dip Factor

I can imagine Olive of Groves as a wonderfully cheeky read-aloud for a classroom of mischief-loving grade three or four children.  The book has a narrator that certainly does not mince words and provides a particularly amusing commentary on the antics of Olive and her friends (and nemeses).  Apart from the chaos and high jinx that seems to invade Groves’ every corner, this book also provides some solid inspiration for those needing to stand up and be counted when it seems that the world (or even just one Very Despicable Pig) is against you.

And now it’s……

Giveaway Time!

I am going to offer ONE winner their choice of one of these books.  The giveaway is open internationally and will run from the moment this post goes live (NOW!) until midnight November 27th (Brisbane time).  The winner will be chosen using a random number generator and will have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a new winner is chosen!

To enter, just comment on this post with the title of the book you would like to win – either The Doldrums or Olive of Groves.

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

A Double-Dip Review to Make Your Skin Crawl: Humans as Monsters (and two more Top Books of 2015!)

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I hope you’ve chosen the most fortifying snack you can think of, because today’s Double-Dip is truly monstrous. I’ve got one adult fiction (or at the very least, upper YA) from one of my new favourite authors and a super-original YA nightmare-scape jaunt from an Australian author. The first, Monsters by Emerald Fennell, I acquired under my favourite author auto-buy policy and the second, In the Skin of a Monster by Kathryn Barker, I won in a competition from the publisher Allen & Unwin.

I also have to tell you that both of these books are making my Top Books of 2015 list for originality and the unexpectedness of their respective storylines.

First up: Monsters by Emerald Fennell. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Set in the Cornish town of Fowey, all is not as idyllic as the beautiful seaside town might seem. The body of a young woman is discovered in the nets of a fishing boat. It is established that the woman was murdered. Most are shocked and horrified. But there is somebody who is not – a twelve-year-old girl. She is delighted; she loves murders. Soon she is questioning the inhabitants of the town in her own personal investigation. But it is a bit boring on her own. Then Miles Giffard, a similarly odd twelve-year-old boy, arrives in Fowey with his mother, and they start investigating together. Oh, and also playing games that re-enact the murders. Just for fun, you understand… A book about two twelve-year-olds that is definitely not for kids.

Dip into it for…monsters

…exactly what it says on the tin: Murderous minors, suspect elders and some seriously twisted behaviour. The unnamed young narrator is reasonably unlikeable – although as the story progressed I did gain a smidgeon of sympathy for her – and her new friend Miles is one of those kids that you would definitely NOT want to have to sit next to at school (even if he wasn’t homeschooled). The tone is very matter-of-fact and the tale baldly told which suits the highly suspicious goings-on perfectly. Contrary to what you might expect from the blurb, there isn’t a great deal of gore and blood-splatter here, but there is definitely an undercurrent of mind*uckery. The ending also hit me for six – it was unexpected and quite fitting, to say the least.

Don’t dip if…

you think this is a light-hearted tale featuring rambunctious pre-teens. There are references to sex, abuse, violence and even some quite ribald language, so this is not a book aimed at a middle grade audience. Similarly, if you don’t like seeing animals harmed in books (never mind about the people), there are some parts of this story you will need to avoid.

Overall Dip Factor

I had been anticipating Monster’s release since I first heard about it, way back when it didn’t even have a cover. I can’t say that this is a book I “enjoyed” – it was too uncomfortable a read for that – but I was certainly impressed with this change in direction from Fennell’s earlier works. It reminded me a lot of Rotters by Daniel Kraus, a book that was similarly creepy and stomach-churning, with elements that made it highly memorable and compelling, if not necessarily agreeable to a tender constitution. I will be hugely interested to see what else Fennell comes out with if Monsters and the Shiverton Hall books are any indicator of her talent.

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*Bruce just chiselled another book out of Mount TBR!*

Now on to In the Skin of a Monster by Kathryn Barker. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Three years ago, Alice’s identical twin sister took a gun to school and killed seven innocent kids; now Alice wears the same face as a monster. She’s struggling with her identity, and with life in the small Australian town where everyone was touched by the tragedy. Just as Alice thinks things can’t get much worse, she encounters her sister on a deserted highway. But all is not what it seems, and Alice soon discovers that she has stepped into a different reality, a dream world, where she’s trapped with the nightmares of everyone in the community. Here Alice is forced to confront the true impact of everything that happened the day her twin sister took a gun to school … and to reveal her own secret to the boy who hates her most.

Dip into it for…in the skin of a monster

…an unexpected tale that blends mental health, identity and the power of dreams (and nightmares) in a highly engaging tale that will greatly appeal to readers of YA. The first few chapters of the book dump the reader in the deep end a bit, with an immediate introduction to the strange dreamscape that Alice eventually finds herself in, but once the initial world-building is out of the way and the dreamscape exchange set up, the plot rolls along at a hurried pace. The changing points of view between Lux and Alice work well to drip-feed the reader the information they need to keep half a step ahead of the characters and attempt to puzzle out the scenario before the surprising ending.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for a standard, chirpy YA plot that hands you all the answers and leaves you with a predictable outcome. This book has a slow burn plot and the reader needs a switched-on brain to avoid missing important links as Alice’s story unravels. Similarly, if you’re looking for a typical YA romance plotline where the rugged loner boy falls madly in love with the broken, honest girl you will be sorely disappointed – the romance in this one is much more authentic and surprising than that.

Overall Dip Factor:

I found this to be a bit of a challenge in the beginning, as the reader really is dumped in the deep end of the dreamscape and is forced to hang in there (along with the characters!) until things start to become clearer.   I was super impressed with the way that Barker has steered clear of the expected fantasy/paranormal tropes and delivered both a world and storyline that is deeper and more challenging than is typically found in YA. The use of twins – one a murderer and the other left to remind the town of a murderer whenever they see her face – was clever and the themes of identity, individuality and our responsibility to those we love is seriously explored in Alice’s recounting of events to her deceased sister. Barker doesn’t neglect the minor characters either – a number of other innocent victims’ back stories are considered here, with the consequences of Alice’s sisters’ actions played out in reality and in the land of nightmares. In the Skin of a Monster is one of the most original, compelling and thought-provoking YA reads I’ve encountered in a while, with the added bonus of a touch of fantasy and a genuine philosophical reflection on the ramifications of our actions…and inaction.

So what do you think of these little beauties? Are they good enough to make YOUR Top Books of 2015 list? Let me know what you think!
Until next time,

Bruce

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Mysterious and Intriguing” MG and YA Edition…(featuring a Top Book of 2015!)

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Well I hope nobody’s still saddle sore from Friday’s Round-Up because today I have three YA and MG titles that you are definitely going to want to hitch to your TBR post. I received all three from their respective publishers via Netgalley and was pleasantly surprised to find them to be thoroughly enjoyable, with a sense of the unexplained. In fact, I enjoyed one of them so much, it has made my list of TOP BOOKS OF 2015! On that exciting note, let’s ride on in!

First up, we have a YA title featuring multiple contributors and a quick, relatable read.

M is for Autism (The Students of Limpsfield Grange School and Vicky Martin)

Two Sentence Synopsis: M is for autism

M isn’t sure why she sees things differently from other people but it certainly makes things harder for her to fit in with her peers. With the possibility of a medical diagnosis looming, M wonders whether a label will help her blend in…or make her stick out even more.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is unlike any book you’ve read with a main character who displays characteristics on the Autistic Spectrum. For a start, the main character is female, and as you delve into M’s readable-in-one-sitting journey, it is highly likely that you will recognise many of M’s fears, experiences and characteristics as similar to those you might have personally experienced or displayed. With eye-dazzling illustrations dotted throughout giving a glimpse into M’s inner turmoil, this book is a highly polished piece of work that will appeal greatly to teenagers who feel like they don’t fit in, as much as it will to older readers looking for an original take on an “autism” novel. The experiences of M’s mother are also realistically portrayed and it was intriguing to see how M internalised her family’s reactions to her behaviour. I highly recommend this book to everyone: it won’t take you long to get through, but it will leave you with some things to ponder well after you’ve finished.

Brand it with:

Sisters doing it for themselves, square peg/round hole, parental freakouts

Next up, as promised on Friday, we have everyone’s favourite stinky monster: Bigfoot!

Sasquatch (Andrea Schicke Hirsch)

Two Sentence Synopsis:sasquatch

Since his parents’ divorce, Jake elected to live with his dad, which means moving to his late Uncle Horace’s cabin in the deep woods of a tiny town. Uncle Horace was known as the town crackpot because of his fascination with Sasquatch and his belief that one lived in the very woods surrounding Jake’s new home – but with malodorous wafts, strange calls in the night and even stranger happenings when he goes walking in the woods, Jake’s not so sure his uncle was crazy after all.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s rare to find a YA novel with a strong male protagonist who isn’t either bully or bullied, labelled as a nerd or a jock, and who possesses confidence and the ability to look after himself and manage his own emotions. Plus, it’s about Bigfoots (Bigfeet?). There was something very refreshing about this novel and I suspect it has something to do with the fact that it steered away from the overused YA tropes I’ve mentioned above and just stuck to good old-fashioned, realistic monster hunting. Of course, one can’t spend all one’s time hunting Sasquatch and there are plenty of non-monster related problems that Jake gets himself into with his new neighbours and friends and the book is better for it. The author has managed to blend the “real-life” issues of a young lad with a mythical overlay and realistic characters and the result is a quality read. Overall, this is a fun, engaging novel with a fantasy edge, some satisfying twists and authentic portrayals of teenagers left to their own devices with a mythical beast (possibly) on the loose.

Brand it with:

Who cut the cheese?, love lies bleeding, live and let live, revenge served hot

Finally, onto our middle-grade offering for today and one of my…..TOP BOOKS OF 2015!

Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods: Twenty Chilling Tales from the Wilderness (Hal Johnson and Tom Mead)

Two Sentence Synopsis: creatures of the lumberwoods 2

Reader, find in this tome the true-life stories of fantastical beasts that roam the North American landscape. From the Gumberoo to the Hodag, and the Snoligoster to the Timberdoodle (although this one only gets a passing mention), everyone’s favourite obscure mythical beasts are given their terrifying due in this not-to-be-missed instructional guide.

Muster up the motivation because:

The disarmingly hilarious turns of phrase, dry humour that creeps up and forces a chuckle and running joke about the French will have you giggling unexpectedly and furrowing your brow by turns in equal measure. This illustrated collection of tall tales is like Monty Python for nine-year-olds. The book is beautifully presented (although I did have MAJOR issues reading this on both Adobe Digital Editions and Bluefire Reader – perhaps due to the large file size) and deserves to be read in print. The individual stories are short enough to dip into before bedtime but long enough to leave a lasting imprint on the individual’s psyche. I’m certain the image of one hunter, returning to civilisation “brokenhearted, with only a timberdoodle in his sack” will be one I cherish for some time to come. Same goes for the killing technique of the deadly Snoligoster, the effect of which, according to the author, is “quite delightful to watch, but also tragic and disgusting”. I heartily recommend this new imagining of an old work to intrepid, confident young readers in about grades 4 to 7, and to adults with a sense of humour of around the same age.

Brand it with:

Tall tales, if you go down to the woods today, instructional guides

So there you have it. I will admit to a bit of cheekiness, hiding one of my TOP BOOKS OF 2015 within a Round-Up, but I like to keep you on your toes and see who’s really paying attention. I have gone on a bit in this Round-Up, but occasionally you find some real gems out there but can’t necessarily fit them in to the individual posting schedule, and these three warrant a bit of long-windedness. I hope you find something here to please.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Aussie “Top Book of 2015” Read-it-if Review: The Beauty is in the Walking…

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Welcome to another Read-it-if Review, this time with an Aussie book by a veteran Aussie author that deals with disability, diversity and big decisions. I gratefully received a copy of The Beauty is in the Walking by James Moloney from Harper Collins Australia for review. Understated and thoroughly likeable, I have placed this story on the pedestal labelled “Top Books of 2015”. Said pedestal is starting to fill up nicely; this is the fifth book upon which I have bestowed this illustrious title.

Anyway, great books don’t review themselves (or I’m out of a job!) so let’s get on. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Everyone thinks they know what Jacob O’Leary can and can’t do – and they’re not shy about telling him either. But no one – not even Jacob – knows what he’s truly capable of. And he’s desperate for the chance to work it out for himself. When a shocking and mystifying crime sends his small country town reeling, and fingers start pointing at the newcomer, Jacob grabs the chance to get out in front of the pack and keep mob rule at bay. He’s convinced that the police have accused the wrong guy; that the real villain is still out there. And he’s determined to prove it – and himself – to everyone.

beauty in the walking

Read it if:

*you’ve ever been outshone by a better looking/more talented/ (insert superlative here) sibling, friend, school mate or passer-by

*you have ever had a teacher that you simultaneously admire and want to punch in the face

*you’re looking for some YA that has thought-provoking content, promotes diversity and steers away from the overused storylines that populate bookstore shelves for this age group

*you secretly want to be thought of as a righter of wrongs, a champion of justice and generally someone who can speak publicly without fear of dribbling.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is something about books by Australian writers, set in Australia that ooze familiarity and comfort. From the moment I took in the exquisite cover of The Beauty is in the Walking, to the first few laid-back chapters, I knew I would be in for an immersive and understated tale of growth and change.

The best thing about this book is that it is unexpected in many ways.

*Please note that I am about to ruin some of that unexpectedness so if you would like to discover the unexpectedness for yourself, you should probably skip the next two paragraphs*

After reading the blurb, I thought I knew generally what this book would be like, but I was unprepared for a main character with Cerebral Palsy (CP), and a resultant mobility impairment. It’s obvious from the beginning that there is something different about Jacob, but the actual naming of his disability doesn’t come straight away, allowing the reader to meet him as he is, rather than having a preconception of what he might be like, based on a label. I feel that Moloney has done an excellent and realistic job of creating a character with a medical condition that imposes certain limitations on how that character moves through the world.

Being that I sit on the shelf of a fleshling with a similar mobility impairment (although not CP) I was surprised at how Moloney has so authentically incorporated this aspect of Jacob’s life into the story. Sometimes the impairment is right at the forefront – embarrassing, painful and inconvenient – and sometimes it’s part of the scenery, unworthy of notice or mention. Similarly, the different reactions of various people to Jacob’s disability run the gamut from overcompensation to celebration. This was part of what made the book feel realistic and it’s no wonder I was drawn in so deeply to Jacob’s quest to break out of the bonds of expectation.

*Alright skippers, you can start reading again now!*

When a number of animals around country Palmerston are killed in vicious attacks, the flimsiest of evidence points toward newcomer to the town, Mahmoud Rais, a Muslim student whose father has taken over the supervision of halal preparation at the local meatworks. Jacob doesn’t fully understand his motivation for doing so, but immediately leaps to Mahmoud’s defence as he is chased by an angry mob of kids. As the town grows more and more convinced that Mahmoud is the guilty party, and the local press and police seem to be encouraging that conviction, Jacob faces a choice about whether it’s worth protesting Mahmoud’s innocence.

Partway through the book I began to worry that this was going to become a clunky sort of declaration of the dangers of leaping to conclusions, with two-dimensional Islamic characters and a cursory diatribe against kneejerk prejudice. Of course, I should have known better and trusted in the talents of Moloney as an experienced writer, because the direction that the story takes could not be further from what I have described.

Instead of attempting to defy stereotyping of a minority by creating characters that would end up being a very small sample of the minority being stereotyped, Moloney has focused the story on Jacob and his thought processes as the events of the investigation are played out. The reactions of others – his parents, schoolmates and teacher – are presented for Jacob to navigate and the pr0s and cons of voicing one’s platform on social media are also explored.

The thing I enjoyed most about this story though, was the fact that the events are presented in the context of Jacob’s final year of school and the decisions that he has to make about his future, both in terms of what he wants to do and who he wants to be. Along the way the story touches on first love, bullying and discrimination, challenging authority and trust – in others and oneself.

If you are looking for an engrossing, surprising and authentically told story – whether you are a reader of YA or otherwise – allow me to suggest The Beauty is in the Walking as a worthy choice, featuring a young male protagonist with an original voice and content that is both topical and perennial.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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imageI seem to be on a bit of a minor roll at the moment, with unexpectedly wonderful books popping up here and there, and I am pleased to be able to add another to my (very short) list of “Top Books of 2015”.

Today’s book is as unexpected and wonderful as it is singular and extraordinary, and I was lucky enough to receive a copy from the publisher, Angry Robot, via Netgalley. The tome in question is The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee, being the first in a new series relating The Peculiar Adventures of John Loveheart, Esq. I hasten to warn that this book, with its oddities and profanities, will not be for everyone but if you are hankering after a blindingly original array of characters forced into unruly submission by an author with an obvious mastery of the written word, then there is a good chance that this book will be for you.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

1888.  A little girl called Mirror and her shape-shifting guardian Goliath Honeyflower are washed up on the shores of Victorian England. Something has been wrong with Mirror since the day her grandfather locked her inside a mysterious clock that was painted all over with ladybirds. Mirror does not know what she is, but she knows she is no longer human.

John Loveheart, meanwhile, was not born wicked. But after the sinister death of his parents, he was taken by Mr Fingers, the demon lord of the underworld. Some say he is mad. John would be inclined to agree.

Now Mr Fingers is determined to find the little girl called Mirror, whose flesh he intends to eat, and whose soul is the key to his eternal reign. And John Loveheart has been called by his otherworldly father to help him track Mirror down…

mirror and goliath

 

Here, then, are five things I’ve learned from

The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath

1. Never trust a man in a waistcoat. Particularly one made of whimsically decorated fabric.

2. Never trust anyone who names themselves after an opposable body part. 

3.  Should you ever be invited to take an especially close look at the workings of a coffin-sized clock, it would be prudent to decline. 

4. When being pursued by demons and humans of dubious origin, it is recommended that you seek the services of a large, battle-trained protector with the ability to shape-shift.

5. Socks, while generally considered an unimaginative gift for older male relatives, are also much less likely to see the giver murdered for the immortality-inducing properties of their soul.

 

I’m sure I’ve mentioned more than a few times how highly an original story is valued in my reviewing world. Being that I churn through a stupidly high number of books a year – my Goodreads challenge chart is telling me that I have read 68 books this year so far – it is only reasonable to expect that much of the time there will be a niggling feeling of having read something like the story in which I find myself immersed, at any given time, before. It is a real and almost tangible treat then, to come across a tale about which one can truly say, “This is different!” The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath is one such book and I put its originality down to the obvious and remarkable talent of the author.

The story is all over the place – and I mean this in the exciting and invigorating sense, not in the “Good Lord, this book is all over the place!” sense that is usually uttered with head in hands – as various characters (both main and minor) muscle in on the telling. The setting ranges from a woody cottage to the depths of the Underworld to the deserts of Cairo to a less-than-reputable clock shop. The characters are human and demon and almost, not-quite. There’s violence and one-liners and escapes and unsavoury dinner parties. Over the course of the tale, a number of characters are referred to as mad – “mad as a spoon”, “mad as a hat”, “mad as scissors” – and while a definite atmosphere of mild insanity hangs over the proceedings, at no point did I feel that the author was letting things get out of (her) hand.

Apart from the welcome and inspiring originality of the tale, the shining light has to be the book’s narrative style. Bee manages to be simultaneously lyrical and distinctly unnerving, mixing dry wit with outlandish, almost slapstick violence and a sense of the poetical with deeds unequivocally wicked. While the title refers to Mirror and Goliath, the main character here turns out to be John Loveheart, Esq., who embodies this sense of innately flawed hilarity and carries it to the nth degree.

By the end of this book I was utterly convinced that I want to read more from Ishbelle Bee, whether in this series or elsewhere. It is rare, in my experience, to come across such finesse with the use of language that one feels excited just to be experiencing the words on the page. I therefore have to commend this book into place number four on my “Top Books of 2015” list, which is growing at a slow but steady pace.

Until next time,

Bruce