A Collection of DNFs…

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It’s time for another round up of books I have recently lain aside.  Given that I now have a default policy of not finishing books that I lose interest in, I unsurprisingly find that I DNF a lot more books than I did previously.  I certainly don’t feel guilty about this, but I do like to make you aware of some of these books because even though they didn’t hold my attention, it doesn’t mean they won’t hold yours.

First up, we have Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott which we received for review from Hachette Australia.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The town of Rotherweird stands alone – there are no guidebooks, despite the rotherweirdfascinating and diverse architectural styles cramming the narrow streets, the avant garde science and offbeat customs. Cast adrift from the rest of England by Elizabeth I, Rotherweird’s independence is subject to one disturbing condition: nobody, but nobody, studies the town or its history.

For beneath the enchanting surface lurks a secret so dark that it must never be rediscovered, still less reused.

But secrets have a way of leaking out.

Two inquisitive outsiders have arrived: Jonah Oblong, to teach modern history at Rotherweird School (nothing local and nothingbefore 1800), and the sinister billionaire Sir Veronal Slickstone, who has somehow got permission to renovate the town’s long-derelict Manor House.

Slickstone and Oblong, though driven by conflicting motives, both strive to connect past and present, until they and their allies are drawn into a race against time – and each other. The consequences will be lethal and apocalyptic.

Welcome to Rotherweird!

I started off very much enjoying this one but made the decision to lay it aside at chapter seven, after 133 pages.  The narrative style was engaging, the characters quirky and there was a twist quite early on that I didn’t expect that opened up a completely new direction for what I thought this book was going to be.  By chapter seven though, I was having trouble keeping the characters straight and remembering exactly who was who and who was allied to whom and things were moving just a little too slowly to encourage me to keep on plodding away.

I do think this book has a lot of potential for presenting an original story, but I didn’t have the concentration required at this point to make a framework for what was happening as I read.  This one will definitely appeal to those who enjoy small-town intrigue, historical mystery and other worlds rolled into one.

Next, we have nonfiction zombie explanatory tome, Living with the Living Dead: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse by Greg Garrett, which we received for review from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When humankind faces what it perceives as a threat to its very existence, a macabre living with the living dead thing happens in art, literature, and culture: corpses begin to stand up and walk around. The dead walked in the fourteenth century, when the Black Death and other catastrophes roiled Europe. They walked in images from World War I, when a generation died horribly in the trenches. They walked in art inspired by the Holocaust and by the atomic attacks on Japan. Now, in the early twenty-first century, the dead walk in stories of the zombie apocalypse, some of the most ubiquitous narratives of post-9/11 Western culture. Zombies appear in popular movies and television shows, comics and graphic novels, fiction, games, art, and in material culture including pinball machines, zombie runs, and lottery tickets.
The zombie apocalypse, Greg Garrett shows us, has become an archetypal narrative for the contemporary world, in part because zombies can stand in for any of a variety of global threats, from terrorism to Ebola, from economic uncertainty to ecological destruction. But this zombie narrative also brings us emotional and spiritual comfort. These apocalyptic stories, in which the world has been turned upside down and protagonists face the prospect of an imminent and grisly death, can also offer us wisdom about living in a community, present us with real-world ethical solutions, and invite us into conversation about the value and costs of survival. We may indeed be living with the living dead these days, but through the stories we consume and the games we play, we are paradoxically learning what it means to be fully alive.

I put this one down after 40% simply because I felt the author had done his job too well, and I had heard enough on the topic that I agreed with.  The book highlights the ways in which the imagery of the undead often accompanies moments in history that trigger instability and a sense of doom.   The book focuses on different aspects of the human experience that are highlighted by the zombie apocalypse narrative – the strength of community, for instance – and does this by examining the themes and events common to various iconic zombie-related pop cultural phenomenon of recent history.  These include The Walking Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and the satirical Shaun of the Dead.  I imagine hardcore fans of these stories will get a new perspective as they watch after reading this book.  Even though, of the shows featured, I had only seen Shaun of the Dead (and that a long while ago), it didn’t hinder my engagement with the points the author was trying to make.

The author himself notes that he makes some of his points from a Christian perspective and while this didn’t bother me particularly, it may not be to everyone’s taste.   The biggest problem I had with the book was that the author made his point so well during the introductory first chapter that I didn’t really feel the need to read to the end of the book!  If you have a burning interest in pop culture phenomena and how these influence and in turn, are influenced by wider world events, you should find something to keep you amused here.

Next is The Book of Whispers by Kimberley Starr, a historical YA fantasy novel that we received from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Tuscany, 1096 AD. Luca, young heir to the title of Conte de Falconi, sees demons. the book of whispersSince no one else can see them, Luca must keep quiet about what he sees.

Luca also has dreams—dreams that sometimes predict the future. Luca sees his father murdered in one such dream and vows to stop it coming true. Even if he has to go against his father’s wishes and follow him on the great pilgrimage to capture the Holy Lands.

When Luca is given an ancient book that holds some inscrutable power, he knows he’s been thrown into an adventure that will lead to places beyond his understanding. But with the help of Suzan, the beautiful girl he rescues from the desert, he will realise his true quest: to defeat the forces of man and demon that wish to destroy the world.

When I requested this I remember thinking, “Should I?” and it turns out I probably shouldn’t.  I put this down at 11% simply because I felt there was too much telling, with a first person narrator, and not enough showing, and the narrative style was quite staid, as it often is with historical novels of this era.   I was quite interested in the demon element, but after 10% of the story the demons haven’t done anything except hang around and so my interest wasn’t piqued in the way that it might have been.  If you enjoy historical fiction set in the medieval era this may be more to your tastes than mine.

Finally, we have early chapter book Clementine Loves Red by Krystyna Bolgar which we received from the publisher via Netgalley for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s the end of the holidays for Mark, Annie and Pudding (real name: Derek). clementine loves redThey’ve
spent the summer in a cottage on the edge of a forest in the countryside, but they haven’t had any really exciting adventures to tell their classmates back at school…

Until, on their final visit to see the Frog King of a nearby pond, they find a frightened young girl crying in the woods. The curiously named Macadamia tells them she has lost Clementine, and so the three children set out on a quest to find her.

But they are not the only ones looking for Clementine, and a storm is approaching, bringing with it a night full of surprises…

I’ve only just now noted that this story is actually a translation from the original Polish and that knowledge beforehand would have gone a long way to atoning for some of the oddness of the story.  I put this one down after 37% simply because I was a bit bored and couldn’t really be bothered ploughing on to the end.  The story is straightforward enough, though the translation has rendered the narrative style a bit too offhandedly, in that the characters don’t seem particularly invested in finding the mysterious “Clementine” or even having discovered a kid named Macadamia in the woods.

The illustrations are simple line drawings and didn’t add much to my reading experience.  I think this was just a case of reader and story not matching up and I’m sure others will enjoy this lighthearted adventure.

So there you are: four books that I decided not to finish.  Have you read any of these?  Do they sound like they might be your cup of tea?  Let me know!

Until next time,

Bruce

The Song of Seven: A Read-it-if Review…

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read it if NEW BUTTON

If you are a fan of classic children’s literature of the style of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and even Enid Blyton (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) then I will be pleased to introduce you to another author who definitely belongs within the ranks of these writers, but of whom you have probably never heard.  Today’s book is The Song of Seven by Tonke Dragt, which was first published in 1967 under the title De Zevensprong, in the original Dutch.  We were lucky enough to receive a copy from Allen & Unwin for review – a copy which Laura Watkinson has ably translated for its release in English and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At the end of every schoolday, new teacher Mr Van der Steg entertains his pupils with tall tales of incredible events, which he claims really happened to him – involving hungry lions and haunted castles, shipwrecks and desert islands. One day, when he can’t think of anything suitably exciting to tell them, he invents a story about a very important letter which he’s expecting that evening, with news of a perilous mission. Evening arrives and so, to his surprise, does an enigmatic letter…

And so Mr Van der Steg is drawn into a real-life adventure, featuring a grumpy coachman, a sinister uncle, eccentric ancestors, a hidden treasure, an ancient prophecy and Geert-Jan, a young boy who is being kept prisoner in the mysterious House of Stairs. Although the treasure rightfully belongs to Geert-Jan, his uncle is determined to seize it for himself. As Mr Van der Steg, with the help of his pupils, sets out to rescue the boy, he becomes more and more entangled with the strange history of the Seven Ways, the House of Stairs and the powerful Conspiracy of Seven.

 

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The Song of Seven by Tonke Dragt.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November, 2016.  RRP: $29.99

 

Read it if:

*you are a fan of classic old children’s literature in the vein of C. S. Lewis’s early Narnia tales

*you can’t go past a story that involves a tricky riddle, a grand old house and getting out of school work to listen to stories

*you are the type of person who, when a complete stranger turns up to your house in a mysterious coach in the night and tells you to hop in, would probably put down your hot chocolate, kick off your bunny slippers and climb aboard

*you’ve ever been invited to an illicit party that really brought the house down

After having put Dragt’s The Letter for the King and The Secrets of the Wild Wood on my TBR list when they first came out, but never having got to reading them, I was excited to see The Song of Seven released, not least because it’s a standalone novel.  It took me a couple of chapters of delightfully vintage-feeling prose before I looked at the publishing information to find that rather than just being vintage-feeling, the text actually was vintage!  I must applaud Laura Watkinson, the translator, for recreating that nostalgic tone of great children’s literature of times gone by in this contemporary English release, because the story just oozes retro charm.

The most interesting thing about this book for young readers is that the protagonist, Frans van der Steg (or Frans the Red, as he calls himself when telling stories to his class) is an adult, and more than that, a schoolteacher!  It’s so rare to find contemporary children’s stories that aren’t told from a child’s perspective these days that it certainly made the book immediately stand out for me as something different, and perhaps even timeless, as no doubt to a child, an adult is an adult is an adult, no matter what historical period you find them in.  In fact, apart from the supporting cast of Frans’ class and Geert-Jan, the boy confined in the House of Stairs, all of the main characters are adults.  This collection of unlikely  companions makes up a group of conspirators, who are invested in dealing with the prophecy connected with the House of Stairs, and Geert-Jan himself.

While the vintage tone of the book was definitely refreshing and cosy to fall in to, I did find that there were a lot of chapters in which not a lot happened.  The author seems to delight in leaving Frans the Red in the lurch, and just when it seems he is about to make a breakthrough regarding the conspiracy, his fellow conspirators decide not to tell him, or something happens to ensure that the next key piece of information is left dangling, like a carrot on a stick, for Frans and the reader to chase.

Once Frans makes it into the House of Stairs as Geert-Jan’s tutor, however, the pace begins to pick up and we are treated to yet more oddball adult characters, as well as a setting that must be seen to be believed.  The climax of the tale comes together quite quickly and it is an exciting and unexpected ending that balances out the slower pace of the first half of the story.  Throughout the book there is a definite sense of magical realism lurking behind the ordinary happenings, the fact that one of the characters is a magician notwithstanding.  Even though I wouldn’t class this as a typical fantasy book, there is an undeniable undercurrent of the uncommon and extraordinary between the lines of each page.

If you have a confident, independent reader in your dwelling who isn’t afraid to solve a riddle, and wishes that their classroom teacher would spend a good portion of each day telling stories, then you should definitely nudge The Song of Seven in their general direction.  If you are an adult fan of books for young readers and you love a book where the magic is in the nuance of the story, then I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Funny “Ha-Ha” and Funny “Peculiar”: A Double Dip Review That May Contain Oddity…

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Today’s double dip requires a whimsical, unexpected sort of a snack.  A snack that makes you giggle and might cause others to look at you askance while you snack upon your unlikely choice of foodstuff.  The books I have for you today are a delightful blend of the funny and the peculiar, the delightful and the unexpected…so I shan’t burden you with my ramblings any longer. Let’s dip in!

First we have Sad Animal Facts by Brooke Barker, which we received with glee from PanMacmillan Australia.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A delightful and quirky compendium of the Animal Kingdom’s more unfortunate truths, with over 150 hand-drawn illustrations.

Ever wonder what a mayfly thinks of its one-day lifespan? (They’re curious what a sunset is.) Or how a jellyfish feels about not having a heart? (Sorry, but they’re not sorry.)

This melancholy menagerie pairs the more unsavory facts of animal life with their hilarious thoughts and reactions. Sneakily informative, and wildly witty, SAD ANIMAL FACTS will have you crying with laughter.

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Sad Animal Facts by Brooke Barker. Published by PanMacmillan Australia, 30th August, 2016. RRP: $19.99

Dip into it for…  

…a not-to-be-missed opportunity to revel in an atmosphere of schadenfreude directed squarely at our animal friends.  Most times, when a blurb promises that I will laugh out loud or that the contents of said book is hysterically funny, I become immediately wary that the actual level of humorous content is sadly lacking.  Sad Animal Facts did, however, have me laughing aloud within the first three pages, and by the end I’m pretty sure a little laughter-tear had leaked out.  I’m pretty sure that no matter how much you love animals and deplore your suffering, it will be hard not to have a little mean-spirited giggle at the predicaments of some of the animals contained within.  There’s the poor old long-tailed skink who embodies the shame of every hungry and impulsive human that ever lived, the gorilla who is as disgusted by your poor hygiene practices as the rest of us are (wash your damn hands, dammit!), and the downcast gnu who know exactly how multiple-birth kids feel about sharing birthdays.  The illustrations are sparse, simple and perfectly capture the various glumnesses of a menagerie of cute and crestfallen animals.

Don’t dip if…

…you can’t bring yourself to have a giggle at the woes of animals large and small.  And if that is the case, allow me to note what a sad little animal you are.

Overall Dip Factor
If this chunky little tome isn’t made into a desk-sized, tear-off calendar in time for this year’s office Kris Kringle season, then someone has dropped a huge marketing ball.  Sad Animal Facts is exactly that kind of read – one to flick through at leisure and enjoy piecemeal, savouring a few animal adversities at a time.  I would love to see a few copies of this one dropped into the waiting rooms of hospitals and, perhaps, funeral homes, to see how long it takes for someone to laugh inappropriately loudly in such a space while flicking through this book. I would definitely recommend this one to lovers of humour and illustration, and as the perfect gift for that acquaintance who likes to complain a lot about their situation in life.

Next up we have The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami and translated from the original Japanese by Allison Markin Powell, which we excitedly received from Allen & Unwin for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Hitomi takes a job on the cash register of a neighbourhood thrift store, she finds herself drawn into a very idiosyncratic community. There is Mr Nakano, an enigmatic ladies’ man with several ex-wives; Masayo, Mr Nakano’s sister, an artist who has never married; and her fellow employee Takeo, a shy but charming young man. And every day, customers from the neighbourhood pass in and out as curios are bought and sold, each one containing its own surprising story. When Hitomi and Takeo begin to fall for one another, they find themselves in the centre of their own drama – and on the edges of many others.

A tender and affecting exploration of the mystery that lurks in the ordinary, this novel traces the seemingly imperceptible threads that weave together a community, and the knots that bind us to one another.

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The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami. Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th August, 2016. RRP: $27.99

Dip into it for…  

…a quirky, funny and dreamy story that drills down on the relationships between the employees of a Japanese thrift shop.  Our excitement upon receiving a copy of this book could have been considered unseemly; Mad Martha adores thrift shops, flea markets, suitcase rummages and any opportunity to rifle through strangers’ cast-offs, so the chance to read about a Japanese version of the same was enticing indeed.  What this ended up reminding me of the most, oddly, was the narrative style of Alexander McCall Smith, with its intense focus on relationships and conversations, and a plot that is clearly secondary to the characters.  I could not help but become enamoured of Hitomi, the narrator, self-deprecating as she was, and Mr Nakano is so well described that a distinct image of him (adorned with a bobble hat) sprung immediately into my mind.  Masayo seems to be a strange yet endearing version of comic relief, often bringing up indecorous topics to be reviewed in the cold light of conversation, and Takeo…well, he seems like an enigma, wrapped in a puzzle, wrapped in a shirt.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re hoping for a book with a solid plot.  As I mentioned, this story is about the characters and their interactions, and as such, nothing in particular “happens”.  The chapters work more like separate but consecutive snapshots into the lives of the characters, with a specific small event forming the focal point of each snapshot.

Overall Dip Factor

I interpreted the blurb to mean that the story would focus a fair bit on the customers of the shop, and the stories behind their items for sale or purchase, but the heart of the book really is Hitomi and her relationships with Takeo, Mr Nakano and Masayo.  There are a few other characters that influence the story – Sakiko, Mr Nakano’s mistress of the moment, is the most significant of these, but a few trading partners and customers have stories of their own highlighted throughout.  This style of narrative is certainly not going to appeal to everyone.  Some readers just need some kind of action to hold their interest.  I found that this one grew on my as I was reading and while I started off enjoying the dry and quirky humour, I remained reading because I really wanted to know what was going to happen for each of the four main characters.  This is a story that will no doubt stick in my head for a while yet.

Alas, it is now time for you to finish your peculiar snack and decide which of these books (or both!) you will be popping on your TBR list next!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Thank Goodness it’s TBR Friday!

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TBR Friday

I’ve got a gently odd little offering for today’s climb up Mount TBR.  It’s adult fiction (memoir?) The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide and translated by Eric Selland.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another.

One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife; they go walking together, talk and share stories of the cat and its little ways, play in the nearby Garden. But then something happens that will change everything again.

The Guest Cat is an exceptionally moving and beautiful novel about the nature of life and the way it feels to live it. Written by Japanese poet and novelist Takashi Hiraide, the book won Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, and was a bestseller in France and America.

the guest cat

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Probably about a year?  I can’t say exactly as I didn’t buy this one myself.

Acquired:

Received as a birthday gift

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

It’s a very slim tome, so of course I put it off under the logic that as it’s so thin I could pick it up and knock it over anytime.  Also, the sensible, grown up, adultness of the subject matter had me a tiny bit intimidated, even though I asked someone to buy this for me because I wanted to read it.

Best Bits:

  • It’s rare to find such a gentle story in which the content is so limited, yet still engaging: this is literally a man reflecting on his life with his wife and the next-door neighbour’s cat.  I don’t think there’s any massive, deep analogy that I’m missing.  It’s a pretty straightforward reflection on life, relationships and loss. And the habits of cats.
  • The writing is … sublime seems too committed a word, but  maybe majestic could be a good way to describe it.  Majestic without being arrogant.  Rapturous but at the same time, quotidian.  There’s an elevation to the writing which makes the ordinary events being described feel like something important.
  • The book is slim and can be read quite quickly.  Alternatively, the content works well for just taking things a chapter at a time due to the lack of exciting action.
  • If you have a particularly deep love for felines, you will probably delight in the detailed descriptions of the cat’s cute idiosyncracies.
  • There is a section at the back with some notes that give context to some of the events that might be missed or misinterpreted by non-Japanese readers.  I found this quite helpful in re-examining a particular event toward the end.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • The print in this edition is teeny-weeny.
  • Without spoiling the events of the book for you, by the end of the book, the man and his wife seemed a little too attached to the cat to the point that it was interfering with their ability to move on.  Literally move on, since they move house.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Considering it wasn’t my money that paid for it, yes.  Particularly since it isn’t at all my usual type of read, and therefore it is unlikely that I would ever have bought it for myself.

Where to now for this tome?

I will probably pass it on to someone who will enjoy it. Or possibly sell it at a Suitcase Rummage.

This is another chink off the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block.

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

Utopirama: Pigeons, the Elderly and Personal Growth…

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It has been a considerable while since I last put up a novel in the Utopirama category, but today’s delightful little tome simply could not fit anywhere else.  We received a copy of Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger via Netgalley and as it is a translation from the original French, I should probably mention that the translator was Frank Wynne – this will be important to know later.  Let us begin.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A humorous, heartwarming story follows the intellectually dim-witted 45-year-old Germain as he meets and slowly gets to know 85-year-old Margueritte, who sits in the park every day watching the pigeons and reading. She speaks to him as an equal, something his friends rarely do, and reads to him, sparking in him a previously undiscovered interest in books and reading. When she reveals to Germain that she is starting to lose her eyesight to macular degeneration, he is inspired for the first time in his life to work at reading so that he can read fluently to his new friend.

soft in the head

Quick Overview:

This is a novel in which, I can happily report, nothing particularly distressing occurs.  The old lady does not die in the end.  There is a bit of language and sexual allusions, to warn those who are squeamish about such things, but overall the story explores the developing friendship between Germain and Margueritte, as well as charting Germain’s growth in self esteem, motivation and personal purpose.  If this sounds like it flies a bit too close to the winds of tedium for you, I can assure you that the gentle pace is more than made up for by the charmingly personable narration of Germain.  The effect of the whole story is a lingering sense of upliftedness and an appreciation for the small things in life.

I have had a bit of trouble with translations from French in the past, for reasons that I can’t quite pick.  Perhaps I’m just not finely attuned to the French sense of humour.  This translation though, was excellent, in that it kept the Frenchness of the characters and story and setting, yet seamlessly incorporated turns of phrase in the English vernacular that added to the atmosphere and allowed the characters to be more fleshed out for an audience unfamiliar with the nuances of the French language and lifestyle.  The narrative style was immediately engaging, and Germain is such a likable and sympathetic narrator that I couldn’t help but take his arm and stroll along into the story.

If you are unfamiliar with Netgalley, you will be unaware that reviewers may request books months before their release date and it was just such a circumstance that had me completely forgetting the specifics of the blurb before I began reading.  For this reason, I went into this story thinking that Germain was in his early twenties rather than mid-forties.  His style of narration and continual admissions to being slightly below par in the intelligence stakes did nothing to dispel this misconception, so I was more than a little surprised when Germain mentions about halfway through the book that he is actually 45!  After allowing my brain a few chapters to reconceptualise the main character, I quite easily got back into enjoying the flow of the story.

This would be the perfect pick for a lazy holiday read or to keep on your nightstand for when you need a gentle easing into sleep.  It’s funny, touching and generally focused on finding the good in people and the magic that can happen when an unexpected friendship bears the fruit of positive change in the participants.

Utopian Themes:

Books as solace for the weary heart

Traditional skills and hobbies

Intergenerational friendship

Overcoming adversity

Forgiveness

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

protective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubble

Five out of five protective bubbles for the simple pleasure of feeding pigeons from a sunny spot on a park bench.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Adult Fiction Spookfest (and Giveaway!): Hex…

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Bruce's Pick

I know they’ve been coming thick and fast this last few months, but today I have another Top Book of 2016 pick for you – and I enjoyed this one so much that I think that it’s vying for the top spot of my Top Book picks for 2016 with Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club.  We received an ARC of Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt from Hachette Australia (thanks!) and then we received a finished copy of the book (also from Hachette Australia – again, thanks!) so that means I have one print copy of the book to give away! Hooray!  Details on how to enter are at the end of this post.  But let’s get on. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay until death. Whoever comes to stay, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth-century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Blind and silenced, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s beds for nights on end. So accustomed to her have the townsfolk become that they often forget she’s there. Or what a threat she poses. Because if the stitches are ever cut open, the story goes, the whole town will die.

The curse must not be allowed to spread. The elders of Black Spring have used high-tech surveillance to quarantine the town. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break the strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into a dark nightmare.

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Hex is a real psychological creeper of a tale. I should mention that the final chapters of this one had me mentally running in circles shrieking gibberish, so it’s the perfect pick for fans of creepy, urban horror.   Essentially, a town is held hostage, so to speak, by the presence of a ghostly witch in their midst.  Anyone who leaves town for too long develops compelling urges to commit suicide.  Strict rules are in place regarding curfews for visitors to the town.  Residents are required to report the witch’s whereabouts when they see her, using the town’s very own witch-spotting app.  But for the most part, the people of Black Spring get along just like everyone else.  Until, of course, they don’t.

I won’t spoil the plot for you by going into too much more detail, because this book relies heavily on the slowly unfolding, cumulative effects of the behaviours of certain townsfolk.  And you will get to know the townsfolk, with all their vices, foibles and motivations, as the story flicks between the characters throughout.  There’s the thin blue line of “police” who monitor the town’s many CCTV cameras to ensure the witch isn’t in danger of being discovered by outsiders, the group of teenagers who want nothing more than to throw off the shackles of the witch and have access to unrestricted internet, the local shopkeeper with a difficult past and a soft spot for the witch and a supporting cast that run the gamut of humanity in all its best and most base forms.  At its heart, putting the supernatural aspect aside, Hex is an absorbing exploration of motivations and regrets that will resonate with anyone who has ever wondered what they might do in certain situations when their loved ones are in danger.

One of the interesting things I discovered about this book after finishing it is that not only is it a translation from the original Dutch (I already knew that bit), but the setting has been changed for the English language edition, from a village in Holland to a town in the USA.  While I have mixed feelings about the need to do this, I have to commend the translator, author, editor and whoever else was involved in creating the switch in setting, because the town itself, its environment and history, is such an enormous part of the story.  The setting really drives a lot of the backstory of the witch, so I’m surprised and impressed at how thoroughly the change in setting, and its execution, was managed.

This is one of those stories that, even when it’s creeping you out completely, you still feel compelled to read.  Add to that the fact that I actually slept with the light on once I’d finished reading it and you’ll have a fairly good idea of how deeply this one got under my stony facade.  If you are a fan of books with a pervading atmosphere of latent menace and enjoy the type of horror story in which guessing the ending is almost impossible, then you should definitely get your hands on Hex.

AND TO AID YOU IN GETTING YOUR HANDS ON A COPY, HERE’S A GIVEAWAY!

I am giving away one print copy of Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, thanks to the generous folk at Hachette Australia.  The giveaway is open internationally and will run from the moment this post goes live (NOW!) until midnight on Wednesday the 18th of May (Brisbane time).  To enter, all you have to do is comment on this post and answer the question…

What is the most unexpected place that a witch could pop up?

The winner will be chosen using a random number generator from the pool of eligible comments.

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

A Japanese Double-Dip Review…and an Fi50 Reminder!

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

Before we get started on a double dip from the far East, allow me to inform you that our first Fiction in 50 writing challenge for 2016 kicks off on Monday, the 25th of January.  Our prompt for this month is…

dredging up the past

If you’d like to join in, simply create a piece of poetry or prose in fewer than 51 words and then post the link to your work in the comments of the Fiction in 50 post on Monday.  For more detailed information on the challenge and future prompts, click here.

Now onto our…

imageWell, I promised earlier in the month that I would be bringing you more books featuring Japan and today I deliver on that promise.  I have one middle grade classic revamped for a new generation and one adult contemporary fiction that is perfect for lovers of the quirky road-trip subgenre.    I received both of these from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s start with the one I liked most, which was the middle grade classic revamp: The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui, first published in 1967 and translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

On the first floor of the big house of the Moriyama family, is a small library. There, on the shelves next to the old books, live the Little People, a tiny family who were once brought from England to Japan by a beloved nanny. Since then, each generation of Moriyama-family children has inherited the responsibility of filling the blue glass with milk to feed the Little People and it’s now Yuri’s turn. 


The little girl dutifully fulfils her task but the world around the Moriyama family is changing. Japan is caught in the whirl of what will soon become World War II, turning her beloved older brother into a fanatic nationalist and dividing the family for ever. Sheltered in the garden and the house, Yuri is able to keep the Little People safe, and they do their best to comfort Yuri in return, until one day owing to food restrictions milk is in shorter supply…

blue glassDip into it for…

…a bewitching and moving account of one family’s – and in particular, one young girl’s – attempt to care for others in a desperate situation.  I really loved discovering this story for the first time and I think other adult readers will enjoy it too, never mind the younger ones!  The text reads like a classic children’s story and, being historical fiction, the tale doesn’t have the action-packed pace that one might have come to expect from contemporary middle grade reads, but the story is a deeply engaging take on the theme of the Borrowers, with much to say to a new generation of children.  Yuri is a wonderfully relatable character and readers will be hoping for the best along with her as times get tougher, as well as cheering for her and the Little People as they develop some ingenious methods to overcome hardship.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for fast-paced action and obvious magical themes.  This is a far more subtle offering, combining the hardship of war with the growth and changes of two families.

Overall Dip Factor

The Secret of the Blue Glass is an absolute winner, in my opinion, either as a read-alone for independent youngsters who aren’t afraid to take on some historical content, or as a pre-bedtime read-aloud serial for parents and their mini-fleshlings.  It was wonderfully refreshing to read a story that examined the goings-on of the second World War from a Japanese perspective, touching on patriotism, dissent and political propaganda  in wartime in a way that is accessible to young readers.  This is definitely worth getting your hands on, if you haven’t come across it before.

And now for the adult contemporary fiction, Yuki Chan in Bronte Country by Mick Jackson.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“They both stop and stare for a moment. Yuki feels she’s spent about half her adult life thinking about snow, but when it starts, even now, it always arresting, bewildering. Each snowflake skating along some invisible plane. Always circuitous, as if looking for the best place to land . . .”

Yukiko tragically lost her mother ten years ago. After visiting her sister in London, she goes on the run, and heads for Haworth, West Yorkshire, the last place her mother visited before her death. Against a cold, winter, Yorkshire landscape, Yuki has to tackle the mystery of her mother’s death, her burgeoning friendship with a local girl, the allure of the Brontës and her own sister’s wrath. Both a pilgrimage and an investigation into family secrets, Yuki’s journey is the one she always knew she’d have to make, and one of the most charming and haunting in recent fiction.

yuki chanDip into it for…

…a chick-lit, road trip, finding one’s self novel with a difference.  “Charming and haunting” certainly sums up the atmosphere of this book, written in a strangely compelling present tense perspective.  Yuki is a likeable, if somewhat neurotic, heroine on a quest to find some peace with her mother’s untimely death in England, ten year’s previously and seems to collect experience that are by turns touching and awkward.  Readers of contemporary who are looking for a main character who is well-developed, but certainly not your average, should take to Yuki like a duck to water.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for a no-brainer holiday read.  I felt like this one had me working quite hard –  whether from the unusual use of present tense, the oddity of Yuki herself of the injections of bizarre dry humour, or a combination of the above – and I suspect that this will take an active, on-form reader to appreciate it.

Overall Dip Factor

If you’d like a change of pace from whatever it is you’ve been reading lately, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that Yuki Chan in Bronte Country will scratch that itch.  It’s a strange mash-up of ye olde world charm with an idiosyncratic main character and a very mysterious back story that will engage readers who are looking for something out of the ordinary and don’t mind leaving a book scratching their heads a little and wondering, “What on earth was that?”

alphabet soup challenge 2016

With such a handy “Y”-based title, I just have to submit Yuki Chan in Bronte Country for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge.  You can check out my progress in this challenge (and maybe suggest some books for the trickier letters!) here.

Until next time,
Bruce