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

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Robots, Insomnia and Plague…

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Welcome to another reading round-up! Today we have a bit of YA thriller, a bit of literary fiction and a bit of graphic novel gore, so hopefully you’ll find something you like within the herd.  I received two of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley, and a third from the author.  Let’s ride!

Sleepless: Narrowdale #1 (Michael Omer)

Two Sentence Synopsis:sleepless

When Amy moved from L.A. to the boring suburb of Narrowdale she was pretty sure she was about to experience some big changes in her life – not necessarily for the better. Finding new friends turns out to be the least of her worries however and when the terrifyingly realistic nightmares begin, Amy knows that there’s something strange running beneath the ordinary exterior of her new town.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a fairly original and engaging take on a paranormal horror story for the YA set. It’s probably not going to win any awards for the standard of the writing, but there’s plenty of spook factor here – cue creepy whistling outside a young girl’s window at night – and enough snarky banter to keep the young folk interested. Omer has created an interesting setting in Narrowdale, where the homeless folk seem to be telepathic (and mildly prescient) and you’re never quite sure whether you’re talking to an ordinary person or a revenant from the past, so for that alone, this is worth a look.  Extra points for the awesome cover art.

Brand it with:

Catchy tunes; missing, presumed dead; heated daydreams, YA paranormal

Spread: Volume 1 (Justin Jordan, Kyle Strahm [ill], Felipe Sobreiro [ill])

Two Sentence Synopsis:Spread-Preview-1

A bloke named No is trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic, plague-ridden world, when he stumbles across a dead woman’s baby. No’s life looks set to become far more complicated, until the baby inadvertently reveals an extremely handy post-apocalyptic, plague-destroying ability.

Muster up the motivation because:

If gore and blood splats and hand-to-hand violence is your kind of thing, Spread will be right up your plague-festering alley. If you like heartwarming stories featuring gruff men saving cute little babies, this will also be right up your alley (presuming you can handle large amounts of blood-splatting gore). I don’t normally go for highly violent graphic novels, but I picked this one up because the fantastic juxtaposition of No and baby (named Hope, for the present time) on the cover screamed “Oddity Odyssey Challenge!” at me and I found that the story was engaging enough that I could put up with the graphic violence. I quite enjoyed the wily and carnivorous ways of the plague creatures too, and No is really just a big softy carrying a throwing axe.

Brand it with:

Post-apocalyptic cuteness, awwww-ful violence, fun with plague creatures

A Robot in the Garden (Deborah Install)

Two Sentence Synopsis:robot in the garden

Ben wanders outside one day to find a decrepit and slightly confused robot sitting under his tree, looking at the horses. Ben seems to think the robot – Tang – can be useful, but is there really a place in a world full of android servants for a rustbucket like Tang?

Muster up the motivation because:

If nothing else, this is a cute story of an unlikely friendship. The plot arc is fairly predictable – underachieving man finds useless robot and tries to integrate it into his home, man stubbornly sticks with robot despite disruption to his marriage, man undergoes dramatic personal change and rectifies underachieving ways with robot in tow. I didn’t really connect with the character of Ben (or Tang, for that matter) and so I think that affected my enjoyment of the overall story but if you’re looking for a gentle, unusual and fairly humorous story featuring unexpected robots, this would be a good pick.

Brand it with:

DIY, it’s-me-or-the-robot, postmodern fable, artificial intelligence

So there you have it, another herd of wild books rounded up and safely corralled.  Hopefully there’s something in there that takes your fancy.  I’m also submitting Spread for the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge under the category of odd subject matter, because I don’t normally read such graphically violent books.  Particularly graphically violent books narrated by a baby.  If you’d like to find out more about the challenge, just click this button:

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Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 7/16

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

The Forgiveness Project: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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imageNonfiction 2015 Welcome to another Five Things I’ve Learned review.  Today I have a read which was both highly engaging and deeply thought-provoking, and as it consists of a collection of personal stories I am going to submit it for the Non-fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader, in which I have chosen to participate. Hence the comfortable chair.

I received a copy of The Forgiveness Project: Stories for a Vengeful Age by Marina Cantacuzino (and others) from the publishers via Netgalley, and I am very glad to have done so because it’s been a while since I’ve read a book that lays out its concept so simply, but with such depth of thought behind it.  Allow me to elaborate.

In 2004 in London, Marina Cantacuzino opened a photographic exhibition called “The F Word”.  Featuring pictures of victims of all sorts of crime and trauma alongside their perpetrators, the exhibition drew both congratulations and controversy, so loaded is our diverse sense of the act of forgiving.  In this book, Cantacuzino has collected personal narratives from those who have chosen to forgive, rather than seek vengeance.  Featuring people from all nations, and victims and perpetrators of everything from street crime, to incest to terrorism and genocide, this book is striking in its breadth, as well as in the depth to which the process of forgiveness has changed the lives of those whose stories are collected here.

cover58581-medium

So here are Five Things I’ve Learned from

The Forgiveness Project

1. Forgiveness does not have to have a spiritual connotation.

2.  For many people, forgiveness is a process, rather than a final destination.

3.  It appears that its possibly to forgive even the most heinous and unimaginable of crimes, given the right context.

4.  To forgive is to invite judgement.

5.  The power of art and narrative, simply expressed, is undeniable.

I admit that I was a little afraid when I picked this book up that it would be replete with graphic and disturbing recollections of terrible events, with a bit of a focus on why forgiving is a good thing.  Happily, this collection is nothing of the sort and, in my opinion, much the better for it.

The book begins with a comprehensive, yet very readable, introduction from the author, explaining the original photographic exhibition and the response it garnered, both positive and negative.  While many were pleased and moved by the imagery and stories on offer in the exhibition, others were angered about everything from the stories featured to the title of the exhibition connoting forgiveness with a swear word.  This introduction sets the tone beautifully for the real essence of the book.  It is not meant to be a prescriptive, everyone-should-forgive-and-this-is-how-you-do-it sort of guide, but an in-depth exploration of the concept of forgiveness: what it is, how it works and the different ways in which individuals have used the concept to achieve a desired end in their lives.

The great strength of the collection, I think, is the variety of stories and individuals featured and the myriad ways that they have engaged with the concept of forgiveness.  For some, forgiveness arrived as a creative way to take their identity or personal power back from their perpetrator.  Others undertook forgiveness as a conscious choice to release their right to revenge, or as a means to break a cycle of violence.  Some of the narrators have a background featuring a spiritual understanding of forgiveness, while others are more pragmatic about the concept and still others wish not to label their actions as “forgiveness” for reasons personal to their story.

Many of the narrators note how loaded the concept is and mention the backlash they received after seeking to forgive.  This backlash could come from many corners – from fellow survivors, who consider forgiveness as trivialising or excusing the event or behaviour; from family or friends, who could not understand how one could forgive certain heinous crimes; from non-forgivers, who feel judged because of the magnanimity of those who do forgive.

Overall, I found this to be an incredibly important reading experience in what does seem to be a “vengeful age”, as well as a litigious one.  I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in peaceful responses to violence and injustice, or indeed anyone who is simply looking for some incredibly gripping and inspirational personal narratives from around the world, presented in simple, bite-sized chunks.

I realise it’s only March, but I feel pretty safe in saying that this is one of my “Top Picks of 2015”, were I to engage in such list-making.

Progress toward Non-Fiction Reading Challenge Goal: 3/10

Until next time,

Bruce

Stella by Starlight: An MG Haiku Review…and Giveaway!

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Hello my little book-loving chooks! It’s time once again for one of my haiku reviews, and today I have one of those books that leaves a deep feeling of cuddly special-ness in your heart-cockles after you’ve finished reading.  I was lucky enough to receive a beautiful hardback copy of Stella By Starlight by Sharon M. Draper from Simon & Schuster Australia for review…and since I enjoyed the story so much, and the edition is so beautiful (with dust jacket and everything) I am also offering it in a GIVEAWAY at the end of this post.  But the giveaway is for Australians only. Sorry everyone else.

Stella is a young girl just trying to get along during the Great Depression in Bumblebee, South Carolina.  Her head is full of ideas but she has all sorts of trouble putting them down on the page, so Stella creeps out of her family’s shack each night to practise that troublesome writing.  On one of her night-time jaunts, Stella and her younger brother Jojo spot a burning cross across the river, surrounded by men on horses, dressed in white sheets.  The Ku Klux Klan has come to Bumblebee.

As the adults worry and keep watch over the neighbourhood children as they go to and from school, all Stella wants is to win the writing competition at school and have her words published in a real newspaper.  But when Stella’s daddy is among a few local men who decide to register to vote in the upcoming election, the danger posed by Klan members in the town comes to a terrifying head.  Will Stella be brave enough to do what needs to be done, or should she keep her head down to keep her family safe?

stella by starlight

This revolution

can be fought with pen, paper

Solidarity

Stella By Starlight is a thought-provoking piece of historical fiction that is all too relevant to contemporary young people.  Stella is an immediately relatable character – a cheeky but protective big sister, a keenly intelligent student who wants to be heard, and a sensitive member of a community that is brought low by persecution.  Draper has done a wonderful job of pitching these quite scary and disturbing historical events at a level that will best engage the intended age-group.  The scenes involving the Klan are (rightly, I think) frightening, but are tempered with the presence of steadying adult characters, so that the children (and young readers) aren’t left to process the implications of these events alone.

I also appreciated the depth that Draper has delivered in the various character groups – not all the white folk are horrible, violent racists, and not all the African-American folk are lion-hearted revolutionaries – so the story reflects the graduations of feeling and action found in any community, and particularly in a community in the grips of conflict.

Throughout the book there is a pervasive feeling of familial love and affection, driven by the closeness of Stella’s family.  It was in these parts that I really became most engaged, and enjoyed Stella’s attempts to put her thoughts down on paper.  The passages in which Stella gains access to a typewriter were quite funny, as both her thoughts and her commentary on the difficulty of wrangling the machine are collected in the one essay.

I think this is an important book for youngsters to read from a historical perspective, as it is vital for the building of peaceful communities that young people know what went before.  But just as important, this is a warm, winsome and witty story that will draw young readers in through the strength and diversity of its young characters.  I highly recommend Stella By Starlight and I wish there were more novels in this style, pitched at this age group, that deal with Australia’s difficult history from the perspective of our indigenous people.

So as this book is too good to keep to myself, on to the GIVEAWAY!  Many thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for providing the giveaway prize.

If you live in Australia, you can enter using the Rafflecopter link below.  The winner will receive a hardback copy of Stella By Starlight.  Rafflecopter will choose a random winner and I will contact the winner at the end of the giveaway. Ready? Set? Enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck to all!

Until we meet again, may your days be filled with the simple warmth of a homespun haiku,

Mad Martha

How to Rid Your Swimming Pool of a Bloodthirsty Mermaid: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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manical book club button

Welcome young and old to another meeting of the Maniacal Book Club.  Today we have a book for middle grade readers who are not afraid to be scared right out of their swimming pools.  We received How to Rid Your Swimming Pool of a Bloodthirsty Mermaid by Mick Bogerman through the Goodreads First Reads giveaways and how grateful we are to have been introduced (albeit through book number two) to this action-packed, thrill-filled story of monsters, mayhem and malevolent mermaidery.  This book is part of the Slug Pie Story series, which began with How To Navigate a Zombie Cave and Defeat Pirate Pete and is currently at How to Destroy the New Girl’s Killer Robot Army.  Clearly, we were drawn to both the fantastical content and the fact that these books hinted at providing helpful tips for conducting oneself in the aforementioned frightening circumstances.

bloodthirsty mermaid

Mick thinks he’s bartered a sweet deal when he trades seven mows of rich neighbour PJ’s lawn for seven swims in PJ’s pool. Since last month’s incident fighting zombie pirates in which Mick’s little brother Finley nearly drowned, Mick has decided to take no more chances and seize the opportunity to teach Finley to swim.  Things don’t go according to plan however, because when Mick and Finley accidentally feed a mysterious substance to PJ’s beloved sea monkeys, a large, deadly, scaly problem that no one could have foreseen suddenly surfaces to throw all humans in the vicinity into mortal danger.  The boys’ mistake somehow causes the growth of a real-life mermaid – not the lush-tresses, coquettish, tail-flicking sort of mermaid, but an enormous, gorilla-hairy, hypnotic-eyed, human-eating mermaid.  Now it’s up to Mick, Finley and the utterly inept PJ to find a way to get Marilyn (PJ’s choice of name) out of the pool before anyone else becomes her lunch, dinner or midnight snack.

maniacal book club guru daveGuru Dave

Friends, fellow-readers and lovers of acquatic life take heed! The Bogerman boys’ story is a cautionary tale for all those who do not read the fine print.  It is so easy to be seduced by advertising and fail to consider the consequences of our purchases.  Add to this the growing gap between rich and poor and the communication breakdowns that occur between those in the two camps, and before you know it a scaly, hungry water-demon has been unleashed to reign down merry hell on the hired help.

Let this story be a lesson for all those who send off for the offers at the back of vintage comic books.

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book.  But there is a really scary mermaid who hypnotises people into the water and then EATS THEM!! That was pretty cool.  And her name’s Marilyn.  That was funny.

I like Mick because he’s fearless and does lots of cool stunts to try and get Marilyn back to the ocean.  Finley’s pretty cool too because he always thinks things through.  PJ is a bit of a baby.  But he turns out okay in the end.

I hope one of Mick’s next books has dragons in it. But the killer mermaid was okay as a substitute.

Mad Martha

Let us all heed advice from our mothersmaniacal book club martha

We should not judge the books by their covers

For like Disney’s she ain’t

This Mer-lass needs restraint

As with flesh-ripping death you’ll discover

maniacal book club bruceBruce

I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed this tale.  The story is pitched at a middle grade audience, but Mick himself warns parents at the very start with a disclaimer that this book is not for the faint-hearted reader.  On the other hand, if you have a young male reader (or female, obviously, but particularly male) who loves action, fantasy violence, heroic actions, kids having to solve problems out of their depth (pun intended) and just general mayhem and adventure, then get them onto this series right this second.

Mick is a rough-as-guts narrator with a strong sense of right and wrong, and is highly protective of his younger brother. Finley is the thinker of the partnership, considering problems from all angles before making a decision.  And PJ….well, PJ learns some valuable lessons about moving out from under his rich parents’ shadow and thinking for himself.

I read this book in one sitting I was so riveted by the narrative style and the action and I think it’s a book that will have great re-reading value.  I’m excited to see what happens in the other adventures in the Slug Pie stories series as this seems to be a fresh, action-packed take on the standard middle grade fantasy genre. The back of the book features a handy little recap of all the tips and tricks that the boys have picked up for dealing with mermaids of the bloodthirsty variety, which was a nice touch.

What I liked most about this tale, as an adult reader, was the references to the retro sea monkey ads that used to feature in the back of comic books.  Like PJ, oh how I wanted a little kingdom of sea monkeys to brighten up my shelf, with their waving, webby fingers, and their happy capering amongst the fernery.  Really, it took me back. In case you have no clue what I’m talking about, here’s the ad that had me pining and yearning for such exotic pets.

sea monkeys

How did they get away with such false advertising I wonder? Oh, that’s right, it was the 70s.

I would definitely recommend giving this particular Slug Pie story a go – particularly if you are in summer right now, because there’s nothing better than reading a story about bloodthirsty pool-dwelling monsters in temperatures which demand regular swimming as an antidote to heat-related death.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Graphic Novel Read-it-if Review: Super Ego (Family Matters)…

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Welcome super fiends   friends! Buckle on your cape, put your undies on the outside of your pants and adopt a slightly creepy and/or pathetic sidekick and let’s delve into the world of psychotherapy for superheroes.  Today’s offering is graphic novel Super Ego: Family Matters by Caio Oliveira which deals with …well…psychotherapy for superheroes. Let us begin our session!

Psychotherapist Eugene Goodman looks, for all intents and purposes, like a regular doctor, but once he enters his office he dons a reflective mask and becomes SuperEgo – a super therapist for some super clients.  As the city has nearly reached saturation point in terms of herodom, with every rich or slightly talented thrill seeker with a world-saving complex popping on the lycra, someone needs to be there to pick them up when they fall emotionally.  And when superheroes fall, they fall hard.  Take Lester, for instance, the son of The Savior and Venus and the most powerful entity on Earth.  Despite having the power to juggle planets, Lester is a complete failure with the ladies and his self-confidence could fit inside a gnat’s hat and still leave ample headroom for the gnat.  Or Javier Hernandez, ex-child star of Mexican soap operas and multibillionaire who causes havoc with his giant wrestling robots whenever he gets bored of the playboy lifestyle and wants to try ridding the city of crime.  Without SuperEgo’s help, the normals would really have a Super Problem on their hands.  But when Dr Goodman’s grandfather deals with an unscheduled housecall from one of Dr Goodman’s high profile clients, the supershit really hits the fan and SuperEgo must smooth over a problem of epic proportions before a returned supervillain undoes all SuperEgo’s good work.

superego

Read it if:

* you wish your psychotherapist would wear a reflective mask during sessions – superhero or not

* you would love to adopt a secret superhero identity, but are worried about the potential health insurance premiums for high quality Post-Traumatic Stress counselling

* you have ever been utterly embarrassed by a family member in an epic and public fashion

* your parents never understood (or supported) your choice of career

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I requested this title, but as regular readers of this blog will know, I find it hard to go past any book, but particularly fiction, in which mental health is mentioned, so mental health combined with a particularly unusual client group just tipped me over the edge. First let me say, in case you haven’t figured it out already, this is a graphic novel for adults, not children.  There’s sex, violence, angry grandpas, revealing bodysuits, more violence…so let’s be clear on that before we begin.

There was a lot to like in this graphic novel I thought, particularly for those who, like me, only dip into this genre occasionally.  The story was easy to follow, it was reasonably funny and the art resembled the traditional superhero comics that one might have read as a kid. There was also a nice bit of character development from both the superheroes, and from SuperEgo himself.  Best of all, there is a twist at the end that cluey readers could probably guess early on, (but I didn’t!) that turns the whole plot on its head and proves that the fears of scientologists about the manipulative nature of psychiatry could be well-founded…in this graphic world, at least.

The thing I least liked about this was having to read it on a computer.  I am of the opinion that graphic texts are always better in print – all the better to see the art without having to adjust your screen, zoom in, zoom out etc etc.  Overall, the book didn’t blow me away, but certainly provided a fun interlude between the novels that are my bread and butter.  I would be interested in seeing how the series pans out because I think this has been a promising beginning, but I’ll wait until the next instalment crosses my path, rather than rushing out to buy it.

Until next time, may all your mental health issues be looked after by someone with superhuman abilities!

Bruce

* I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review*

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