Meandering through Middle Grade: The Tale of Angelino Brown…

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David Almond is one of those authors that many people categorise as an “auto-read”; that is, such is the strength of his previous work, any new work that is published will be snapped up immediately by his fans.  It’s a bit that way for we shelf-dwellers.  We loved Skelling, A Monster Calls and Heaven Eyes, for instance, but found some of his other books like Clay and The Savage a bit too dark and depressing.  The Tale of Angelino Brown which we received from Walker Books Australia for review, felt like something new from Almond.  The magical realism and quirkiness were all still there, but oozing out of the pages was a sense of hope and a lightness in tone that we hadn’t encountered in Almond’s work before.  Before I say too much more, here’s the blurb from Walker UK:

A warm and witty tale from a master storyteller, author of Carnegie Medal-winning Skellig and internationally bestseller The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas

Bert and Betty Brown have got themselves a little angel. Bert found him in his top pocket when he was driving his bus. Bert and Betty’s friends think he’s lovely. So do Nancy and Jack and Alice from Class 5K. What a wonder! But Acting Head Teacher Mrs Mole is not so sure. Nor is Professor Smellie. Or the mysterious bloke in black who claims to be a School Inspector. Then there’s Basher Malone – big, lumbering Basher Malone. He REALLY doesn’t like Angelino. And it looks like he’s out to get him…

tale of angelino brown

There’s a real sense of joy that comes flitting through the text and images of this tome, from the opening lines of “Here we go. All aboard”, to the rosy-cheeked, golden-haired, flatulent angel of the cover.  This book felt quite uplifting to read throughout, which is not always the case with Almond’s work, and I couldn’t help but feel that this book would be a hit with both its intended young audience, and older readers who dared to venture into books for young readers.  The tone is generally light and humorous, without ever losing Almond’s signature sense of pathos directed toward certain of the more pitiable characters in the story.

The book opens on Bert Brown’s pondering about the deficiencies of the bus driving trade, when all of a sudden, Bert’s life is turned on its head by the discovery of an angel – a living, breathing, if somewhat flatulent and undersized angel!  The grumpy Bert brings the angel home to his wife Betty and the pair immediately become enamoured of the little creature and name him Angelino.  As the story moves on, Angelino becomes a treasured being among the children at the school at which Betty works as a lunch lady and with each passing connection, Angelino grows larger.  All is not well however, as unscrupulous and just plain unwise forces find out about Angelino and set into motion a plan to kidnap him for reasons nefarious.

This really is a delightful read, with lots of giggles to be had and a real sense of warmth about the quirky characters.  Almond has a way of making even the most odious of personalities at least pitiable, if not likeable, and there is much of that going on here with everyone from Kevin the Master of Disguise, to Mrs Mole the acting Headteacher and the truly monstrous Basher Malone.  Bert and Betty are the epitome of lovable however and felt like the true heart and soul of the book to me.

Themes of friendship, forgiveness and the forging of community can be found at various junctures of the story and Angelino, while never the most loquacious of characters, serves as a central focus around which unconnected characters come together.  The illustrations enhance the reading experience and wrap neatly around sections of text, giving extra life to the imagery generated by the writing.

I thoroughly recommend The Tale of Angelino Brown to current fans of Almond’s work as well as those who have never come across his work before.  I could see this being the perfect read aloud for a lower middle grade classroom, both for its humour and its gentle message of rallying around the vulnerable.

I’m going to submit this one for the Popsugar Reading Challenge, under category #47: a book with an eccentric character, because eccentricities abound in this one.  You can check out my progress toward my reading challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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Creepy Adult Fiction Review: The Ghosts of Sleath…

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Meet an old story in a new jacket!  We received this gorgeously covered copy of The Ghosts of Sleath by James Herbert from PanMacmillan Australia not realising that the story was originally published in 1994.  All things considered though, this didn’t really matter to us because we’ve never read any of Herbert’s work anyway!  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Can a ghost haunt a ghost?
Can the dead reach out and touch the living?
Can ancient evil be made manifest?

These are the questions that confront investigator David Ash when he is sent to the picturesque village of Sleath in the Chiltern Hills to look into mysterious reports of mass hauntings. What he discovers is a terrified community gripped by horrors and terrorized by ghosts from the ancient village’s long history. As each dark secret is unveiled and terrible, malign forces are unleashed, he will fear for his very sanity.

Sleath. Where the dead will walk the streets.

Sleath, it seems, is a picturesque village that is haunted by…well, pretty much everything that ever happened there.  When psychic investigator David Ash is called to Sleath at the behest of the local vicar amid whispers of hauntings, he is woefully unprepared to deal with the sheer backlog of instances of human misery that this town seems to be hiding.  Along with Grace, the vicar’s daughter, and later on, a mysterious Irish man who turns up out of the blue, David must try and get to the bottom of the diverse phenomena appearing all over the village and discover whether they have paranormal origins or are driven by something more mundane.

Before you pick this one up you should probably be made aware that it isn’t your average, run of the mill ghost story, but also features some quite graphic, stomach-churning violence that is sprung on the reader without warning in various places.  We Shelf-dwellers, being fans of ghostliness, but not necessarily goriness (unless we’re in the mood!), found this to be a bit of a stumbling block to getting into this book because after a while we became hand-shy that something icky would be around the next corner.  For those who appreciate trigger warnings, you should be made aware that this book features descriptions of child sexual abuse that are quite confronting.

This is the second book in a series featuring psychic investigator David Ash.  Not having read the first book wasn’t a major problem as the author provides enough information here and there to ensure that the reader gets an idea of his backstory. Ash is a bit of a tortured character by all accounts who is committed to his job but still coming to terms with some seriously nasty psychological trauma from a past case.

I couldn’t quite make up my mind as to whether I enjoyed this book or not.  On the one hand, it certainly satisfies the criteria of “totally creepy paranormal phenomena” and “reveals you didn’t see coming”, both of which I appreciate in a good ghosty story.  On the other hand, the aforementioned violence seemed shockingly out of place and was so graphic in places that it made me feel a bit sick.   I also had a few issues with the slow pacing of the investigation and constant interjections of flashbacks from various townsfolk.

While this one didn’t quite hang together in the most appealing way for me as a reader, I’m sure there will be plenty of folk who will appreciate the dark, brooding atmosphere of this book and the multiple narratives that have been woven together to contribute to the surprising reveal.

I will be submitting this one for the Colour Coded Challenge 2017   You can check out my progress toward all my challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Case of the Deepdean Vampire: A Mini Mystery…

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It’s time to check back in with everyone’s favourite girlish detectives, Daisy and Hazel, in this second novella (but fourth-and-a-half offering in the series), The Case of the Deepdean Vampire by Robin Stevens.  I’m very glad that these novellas exist because they at least keep me in touch with the series given that I’m now three books behind since the announcement of an April 6th release date for Cream Buns and Crime, an anthology of Daisy and Hazel short stories.  Anyhow, “just keep plodding along” is my motto for these books, so here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Of all the mysteries that Hazel and I have investigated, the Case of the Deepdean Vampire was one of the strangest. It was not a murder, which was a pity – but I did solve it very cleverly, and so I decided it ought to be written down, so that other people could read it and be impressed.

Camilla Badescu is in the fifth form, and has pale skin, dark hair and red lips. She comes from Romania (which is practically Transylvania). She doesn’t eat at meals. And she seemed to have an unhealthy influence over another pupil, Amy Jessop. Now, I do not believe in vampires – I am the Honourable Daisy Wells, after all. But when I heard the rumour that Camilla was seen climbing head-first down a wall, I knew it was time to investigate…

Much like The Case of the Blue Violet, the other novella in this series, The Case of the Deepdean Vampire is a bite-sized snack of a mystery, narrated by Daisy, rather than Hazel, who is the narrator of the full length novels.  In this particular novella, Daisy recounts her triumphant solving of a case that has the Deepdean girls all of a dither: is Camilla really a vampire? And if not, how can one explain the, frankly, supernatural behaviour that she has been exhibiting of late?  Of course Daisy, being a natural skeptic, manages to confound any latent whisperings of vampirism by performing some quite spectacular physical feats and making the links that others have failed to notice.

I have to say that I didn’t find this one quite as engaging as a short story as the Blue Violet, simply because the premise was hinged on a supernatural phenomenon and readers of this series will know that supernatural happenings are not an accepted part of the deal.  From that standpoint then, the mystery could only have a perfectly ordinary explanation and when it came it wasn’t quite as exciting or tricky as I was hoping it might be.  I felt a little as if there hadn’t been enough clues left out for canny readers to solve this one themselves, so wasn’t quite as invested in the reveal as I may have otherwise been.

So while not the most gripping of the girls’ adventures so far, this is still a fun interlude between books for fans of Daisy and Hazel and the Detective Society.

I’m submitting this book for the Colour Coded Challenge 2017, progress toward which you can see here.

Until next time,

Bruce

TBR Friday: Hester and Harriet

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TBR Friday

I’m slowly edging my way up that mountain and this month I’ve knocked over another one of those books that I just had to have the second it was published, only to leave it languishing on the shelf for months.  Hester and Harriet by Hilary Spiers was touted as a feel-good hit at the end of 2015 and I did everything in my power to obtain a copy for free on or before the release date – through competitions, requesting from the publisher, you name it! – before I gave in and just bought it.  Let’s check it out.

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Ten Second Synopsis:

Hester and Harriet, geriatric sisters, offer refuge to a young woman and her baby in an attempt to get out of having Christmas lunch with odious relatives. When their young nephew Ben turns up also requesting sanctuary, the term “silly season” comes into play, as the ladies and their charges grapple with international migration laws, ridiculously named private detectives and cleaning up after oneself in the kitchen.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

I can’t trace this exactly because I can’t remember where I bought it, but I suspect since late December 2015.

Acquired:

Purchased, either from the BD or possibly Booktopia or maybe Boomerang Books

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

  1. Laziness
  2. Fear that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations

Best Bits:

  • The young nephew character, Ben.  He is comic relief, a breath of fresh air and his growth through the novel is enjoyable to witness
  • The plot is perfect for an extended holiday or beach read.  Nothing too untoward happens and there are lots of quirky characters to get behind.
  • Finbar, the homeless classics master.  He was quite refreshing in his scenes and a handy source of new information.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • It’s slow.  There are lots of discussions between the two sisters that really slow down the action, and this, coupled with the fact that Daria is unnecessarily furtive about her past, means that new information must be wrung from the pages by clawing hands
  • I couldn’t tell the difference between Hester and Harriet.  One is good at cooking and one gets quite shirty about Ben using the kitchen (this is possibly the same sister), but given the two “H” names and not much of a difference in personality or manner between them, I just thought of them as a conglomerate old person spread over two bodies.
  • Finbar, the homeless classics master.  As well as being refreshing, he was also excessively verbose and a great candidate to have “GET ON WITH IT!” shouted at him.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

The more prudent part of my brain says that we would have enjoyed this just as well had we borrowed it from the library.  The generous part of my brain says that at least we can now make someone else happy by passing this impressively large and attractive paperback on.

Where to now for this tome?

It has already been passed along to someone who should enjoy it.

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

Mount TBR 2016

 

Until next time,

Bruce