Meandering through (Aussie) Middle Grade: The Turnkey…

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meandering-through-middle-grade

Today I’ve got the final book in my recent run of World War II related reads, with The Turnkey by Aussie author Allison Rushby.  We excitedly received this one from Walker Books Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Flossie Birdwhistle is the Turnkey at London’s Highgate Cemetery. As Turnkey, Flossie must ensure all the souls in the cemetery stay at rest. This is a difficult job at the best of times for a twelve-year-old ghost, but it is World War II and each night enemy bombers hammer London. Even the dead are unsettled. When Flossie encounters the ghost of a German soldier carrying a mysterious object, she becomes suspicious. What is he up to? Before long, Flossie uncovers a sinister plot that could result in the destruction of not only her cemetery, but also her beloved country. Can Flossie stop him before it is too late?

turnkey

The Turnkey is a solid, original and intriguing tale that has the perfect blend of mystery, history and paranormal activity.  Flossie is the Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery in London, a job which involves ensuring that the dead interred in the cemetery remain – for the most part – peacefully at rest.  With the Blitz causing chaos every night, Flossie seeks solace in visiting some of the other Turnkeys in London’s major cemeteries.  On a midnight sojourn to St Paul’s Cathedral – a favourite thinking spot – Flossie encounters a ghost who shouldn’t, by the laws of the afterlife, be there (never mind that he’s dressed in the uniform of a Nazi SS Officer) and is drawn into a mystery that could tip the scales of the war in favour of the Nazis.

Flossie is an immediately likable character and throughout the story demonstrates her resilience, courage in adversity and compassion for those in difficult situations.  The Nazi officer, who we discover has an unexpected link to Flossie herself, is suitably evil and frightening, and each of the Turnkeys that we meet has his or her own personality, quirks and in some cases, secrets.

I always love books for young readers that aren’t set in schools.  Apart from the fact that being school-less allows the author to neatly avoid all those boring, repetitive, school-bully-based tropes, the non-school setting also makes books for young readers more accessible and interesting for grown up readers.  Such was the case with The Turnkey.  In fact, I kept forgetting that Flossie was meant to be twelve years old – albeit a reasonably long-dead twelve years old – such was the adult appeal of the novel. I love a good set-in-the-Blitz story also and the mix of bombed out London with the atmospheric cemeteries really worked to give a sense of the never-ending clean up and rescue operations that coloured that particular time in London’s history.

The pacing of this story was spot-on, with no filler material included to slow things down.  Reveals came at regular intervals with just enough new information to spur the reader on to discover the next twist in the ghostly Nazi’s plans.  I was impressed with the way the author managed to maintain all the threads of the story without losing the quality of each along the way.  By the end of the book the reader gets to experience the paranormal aspect of the Turnkeys working together (plus some patriotic and enthusiastic ghostly members of the Chelsea Pensioners Hospital), a journey into Churchill’s war rooms and the war rooms of the Nazis, a glimpse into the reality of those living and dying in the rubble and shelters and hospital wards of London during the Blitz, and a fantasy element featuring ancient artifacts.  None of these separate plot threads felt forced or tacked on and taken together they added greatly to the originality and atmosphere of the novel.

The only thing that could have made this book better – as I say with pretty much every book, everywhere – would be pictures.  I remember seeing a documentary or something on the Chelsea Pensioners and their red jackets and it would be awesome (and instructive for younger readers) to see some images of these iconic characters, as well as some images of the actual cemeteries or London during the Blitz for example.  There is a little author’s note at the back with some historical information and it was nice to see that the author had also consulted that seminal of cemetery-related tomes, Katherine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and its Dead.  **I read this ages ago and thought I was amongst a select few, but it keeps popping up as a reference authors have used for lots of fiction books that I’ve come across.  Give it a read if you feel inclined.**

 

I’m fairly sure that this is intended as a standalone novel but I would be interested in seeing what happens next for Flossie.  Given that she’s dead and doesn’t have to age or experience the changes of growing up, it would be cool to see a progression of historical/fantasy/mystery novels featuring the Turnkeys of London’s major cemeteries in different time periods up to the present.  I’d read them, anyway!

If you are a fan of historical fiction, particularly World War II fiction and you can’t go past a paranormal twist I would definitely recommend hunting down The Turnkey.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A YA Double Dip: Beasts of Fantasy and Rocky Realities…

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Sit down, relax and take up your favourite snack for today’s YA-focused double dip review.  I’ve got a contemporary that deals with mental health and teen friendships, and a fantasty retelling of Beauty and the Beast, set in a mythical Japan, so take your pick and let’s wade on in.

First up we have Made You Up by Francesca Zappia. which we received from HarperCollins Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you. Made You Up tells the story of Alex, a high school senior unable to tell the difference between real life and delusion. This is a compelling and provoking literary debut that will appeal to fans of Wes Anderson, Silver Linings Playbook, and Liar.

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.

Funny, provoking, and ultimately moving, this debut novel featuring the quintessential unreliable narrator will have readers turning the pages and trying to figure out what is real and what is made up.

made-you-up

Dip into it for…

…a funny and engaging story full of quirky characters that won’t make you work too hard, but still contains some unexpected twists here and there.  Despite the potential heaviness of the topic – the lead character Alex has schizophrenia and has difficulty differentiating her hallucinations from reality on occasion – this book has quite a light tone for the most part and characters with personality traits that will make you laugh.  Alex can be forgiven for having trouble figuring out what’s real and what’s not at her new school, because it is a bit of a bizarre place.  There’s Miles, the sometimes-German-speaking head of the detention club, a scoreboard that gets more attention from the Principal than the students do, and a bunch of strange goings-on that would have even the least imaginative person around scratching their heads and wondering whether they had slipped into the twilight zone.  As well as Alex’s condition, the book also deals with making new friends in an untrustworthy situation, caring for ill parents, navigating the precarious halls of high school and finding a place to fit in.

Don’t dip if…

…you like a straightforward story where everything is as it seems.  Alex tells us straight up that for her, reality isn’t always exactly as it appears, and unless she records it on her trusty camera, she won’t have a hope of keeping reality straight.  Funnily enough, this bleeds over a bit into the story, so if you don’t like second-guessing every single action and word of every character to test for its voracity, this probably won’t be the book for you.

Overall Dip Factor

I did enjoy this book, although not as much as I expected to.  I had heard great things about it around the blogs and given that it has a mental health theme, I thought it would be up my alley, but there were a few elements that didn’t ring quite true to me.  I loved Alex’s little helpmates – her camera and magic eightball, that help her separate the real from the unreal – but the book situated the schizophrenia more as a cute quirk than as the actual, devastating and debilitating (and in a third of cases, deadly) condition that it is.  There were also a few parts with Alex’s parents right at the end which seemed like a pretty unbelievable response to the situation in question, but I can’t say any more about that because, spoilers.  I suppose I shouldn’t really complain because the book never claimed to be one that was going to deal with mental illness in a realistic and meaningful way, and I really did enjoy the light tone and the main characters (and especially the triplets!) so I can recommend it to those looking for a humorous, reasonably light YA coming-of-age tale with some elements that you won’t see coming.

Next up we have Barefoot on the Wind by Zoe Marriott, which we received from Walker Books Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A companion title to Zoë Marriott’s critically acclaimed Shadows on the Moon, BAREFOOT ON THE WIND is a darkly magical retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” set in fairytale Japan.

There is a monster in the forest…

Everyone in Hana’s remote village on the mountain knows that straying too far into the woods is a death sentence. When Hana’s father goes missing, she is the only one who dares try to save him. Taking up her hunting gear, she goes in search of the beast, determined to kill it – or be killed herself.

But the forest contains more secrets, more magic and more darkness than Hana could ever have imagined. And the beast is not at all what she expects…

Dip into it for…  barefoot-on-the-wind

…a deeply atmospheric foray into family tragedy and having the strength to follow one’s own mind in the face of opposition.  As retellings of fairy tales go, setting one in a fantasy version of historical Japan is a stroke of genius.  I will admit that this was the element that drew me in to this book.   The first few chapters, in which we are introduced to Hana, her peculiar ability to talk to trees, and the shadowy curse plaguing her village, had me immediately hooked.  The writing is laden with imagery and Hana is shown to be kept on the outer by her peers, troubled by grief and family tragedy and yet steadfast in knowing her own mind.  The historical setting of the book felt so unlike any fairy tale I have read before that even though the book is a retelling (or re-imagining, I suppose), there is no deference to the usual tone and motifs typically seen in YA retellings of such familiar tales.

Don’t dip if…

…you are hoping for a Disney-esque retelling of a Beauty and the Beast, complete with twirly skirts and singing furniture.

Overall Dip Factor

As I mentioned earlier, the strongest parts of the novel for me were the beginning and end, as both of these took place in Hana’s village.  In the beginning, as the story moved on and we discover more about the curse of the Dark Wood, I was a little bit sad to let go of the down-to-earth aspects of the story to engage with the fantasy elements, which is unusual for me, but I’m sure those that love fairy tale retellings will adore the unique setting for the Beast and the other forces that manipulate the Dark Wood.  It was great to see a bit of influence of Japanese fantasy culture included here, with a truly frightening spirit throwing her weight around in the latter stages of the story.  If I’m honest, I could take or leave the “romance” bit, which read more like a developing relationship and building of trust than romance (thank goodness!) but the atmosphere and imagery generated by the writing were absolutely absorbing and so I can definitely recommend this to those who love retellings, or indeed those who love a good historical fiction with a fantasy twist.

If neither of these has prompted you to go in for a bite today (really?!), stay tuned, because tomorrow I have a round up of enticing middle grade titles (including some of the best indie reading I’ve done this year!), while on Thursday you can pick over some of my recent DNFs for potential new reading fodder.

Until next time,

Bruce

Giveaway! Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas

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It’s giveaway time!  I received a copy of Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas from Walker Books Australia for review.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t my cup of tea – more about that in a minute – so it’s time to send it on to a more loving home.  To enter the giveaway, which is open internationally (hooray!), scroll down a bit.  But if you actually want to know something about the book you are hoping to win, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It was just another ordinary day at McKinley High—until a massive explosion devastated the school. When loner David Thorpe tried to help his English teacher to safety, the teacher convulsed and died right in front of him. And that was just the beginning.

A year later, McKinley has descended into chaos. All the students are infected with a virus that makes them deadly to adults. The school is under military quarantine. The teachers are gone. Violent gangs have formed based on high school social cliques. Without a gang, you’re as good as dead. And David has no gang. It’s just him and his little brother, Will, against the whole school.

quarantine

I had high hopes for this one but unfortunately I gave up after about four chapters and 45ish pages.  I had three main problems with what I read.  The first of these is that the narrative style focused far more on telling than showing, and so I didn’t feel drawn in to the story.

The second is that the major plot point of the book – that the kids have somehow contracted a virus that is deadly to adults – is just sort of plonked into the text.  There is no indication of how this happened or why or anything.  Admittedly, this could be explained after page 45 and I would be none the wiser, but essentially what I’m saying is that there was not enough believable world-building in the early stages for me to want to stick with it.

**For examples of parts of the story that stopped me from suspending my disbelief, see the below paragraphs.  If you take my word for it, feel free to skip the below paragraphs**

Examples of this include the fact that the army has cordoned off the school within minutes of the first teacher’s death – why (and how??) could they do this unless they were involved? (I don’t know if they’re involved because I finished at page 45, but this was the only logical reason I could think of for the army to be there so quick.)

Another example is the fact that the teacher who dies in front of David (the main character) takes time out from vomiting up his internal organs to warn David to “stay back!”.  Why? If I was literally spewing my guts up, I’d want the nearest person to help me, not stay back.  Did the teacher know that David was causing his death, and if so, how did he know?

Finally, there is a scene in which the boys carry the corpse of the aforementioned dead teacher to a sort of makeshift burial ground (actually, a collection of lockers).  This scene is noted as being two weeks after the death of the teacher.  At no point are maggots mentioned.  I would have expected (and the most cursory of glances at the first webpage about corpse decomposition I came across confirms this) that the body, at two weeks after death, would be crawling with maggots and doused in more than a little seepage of bodily fluid.  Yet this is not mentioned.  Further to this, the teacher-burial-locker thing seems quite an organised operation, but no mention is made of who organised it, how everyone agreed to it etc, etc….

**Okay, examples over.  Normal service now resumes**

The straw that broke the gargoyle’s back however, was a mention on pages 44 and 45 that was particularly telling to me regarding how women were going to be portrayed in this book.

Picture it: A month after hundreds of teenagers are left to their own devices in a locked school, with food only provided through occasional airdrops, the main characters burst into a girl’s toilet while on the run from an angry mob.  This is mere pages after a boy is stabbed through the throat with a piece of wood.  Guess what the girls in the bathroom are doing.

Go on, guess.

Dying their hair with a packet of Kool-Aid.

I effing kid you not.

So, the authors expect us to believe that in a life-or-death situation, wherein food is scarce and, as has just been demonstrated, people will literally KILL to get it, these young ladies are not only misusing a foodstuff that could be used to boost their daily calorie intake, but are also seemingly more worried about their looks than, oh, I don’t know, being locked up with hundreds of hormonal, angry, mob-based teen boys where the risk of rape or violent attack would be astronomical.

And so I stopped reading.  Because if the lacklustre narrative style and lack of basic research weren’t bad enough, there was no way I was going to sit through a book in which young women are portrayed as looks-obsessed halfwits even as the world collapses around them.

Having said that, the book is getting a majority of four and five star reviews on Goodreads, so what the hell do I know?  Hence, the giveaway!

If you would like to be the forever home of Quarantine: The Loners (kindly provided by Walker Books Australia), just click on the rafflecopter link below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

Guest Post: Author Siobhan Curham on Creating Authentic Teen Characters in YA Fiction…

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moonlight dreamers

We are super excited to welcome Siobhan Curham, author of new release YA novel The Moonlight Dreamers, to the Shelf, thanks to Walker Books Australia.  We reviewed The Moonlight Dreamers earlier today on the blog, and now Siobhan is with us to share some tips for all you budding YA writers on how to create authentic teen characters.

Take it away Siobhan!


HOW TO WRITE AUTHENTIC TEEN CHARACTERS

Siobhan Curham

 I guess the first thing I would say if I were advising someone on how to write authentic teens is:

don’t be patronising.

The way some adults talk about teens it’s as if they’re describing some kind of alien life form – full of suspicion and fear. Or they treat them like over-grown children. It’s like they’ve forgotten that they were ever once a young adult!

Which brings me on to my next point:

remember what it’s truly like to be a teen.

When I think back to my own teenage years I remember it being a pretty intense time; a time of so many ‘firsts’. First love, first exam stress, first job, first holiday with friends, first time living away from your family, first alcoholic drink, first hangover, first adult choices.

I also remember it being a pretty scary time. You don’t yet have the benefit of decades of experience and so, when things go wrong, it can be hard to have faith in the belief that, ‘this too shall pass’. The pain of a break-up, or a failed exam, or the death of a loved one, or your parents’ divorce can be overwhelming and it can be really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

On the other hand, young adults aren’t jaded by decades of experience, so they’re able to embrace life and new ideas with freshness and optimism. I’m reminded of this every time I give a talk in a high school or run a workshop for teens and I find it so inspiring. It’s definitely something I try to inject into my teen characters.

There’s a quote by the writer e. e. cummings that I think perfectly sums up the teenage years:

It takes courage to grow up and become the person you really are.

This idea is at the heart of my novel, The Moonlight Dreamers. Yes, the teenage years can be scary, and yes, it’s hard to become the person you really are, when society, the media and the internet might want you to be something you’re not. But if you can find the courage to be your true self and dare to dream your true dreams, then what a great life you’re creating for yourself.


We’d like to say a big thank you to Siobhan for sharing her wisdom with us and for providing such an uplifting read in The Moonlight Dreamers.

Until next time,

Bruce

Monday Upliftivism: The Moonlight Dreamers…and a Guest Post from Author Siobhan Curham!

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It’s been a bit of a tough few weeks for us round the shelf lately.  The winter plague has invaded the household and I can barely think, let alone read, for all the coughing, hacking, moaning and prayers for deliverance, or a speedy death.  This week therefore, will be spent catching up on reviewing a whole bunch of books that have been eagerly awaiting their spot in the limelight.

Kicking off the week, in case you too are plagued by illness or general despair at the state of the world, I offer some upliftivism with new release YA novel from Walker Books, The Moonlight Dreamers by Siobhan Curham.  I should also mention that Siobhan has written a guest post for us about how to create authentic teen characters, which those budding writers amongst you (and I know there are a few!) will no doubt want to feast your eyes on.  Let me introduce you to the delightful and too-sweet-for-words, Moonlight Dreamers, which we received from Walker Books Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

An inspirational, heart-warming book about four girls trying to find their place in the world. Siobhan Curham celebrates very different but like-minded friends in this captivating novel.

Amber craves excitement and adventure. Instead, she’s being bullied at school for having two dads, and life at home isn’t much better. Inspired by Oscar Wilde, Amber realizes that among the millions of people in London, there must be others who feel the same as she does; other dreamers – moonlight dreamers. After chance encounters with Maali, Sky and Rose, Amber soon recruits the three girls to the Moonlight Dreamers. It’s high time they started pursuing their dreams, and how better than with the support of friends?

moonlight dreamers

Quick Overview:

I have to say that if ever there was a book for younger readers that fit the Utopirama mould, then The Moonlight Dreamers is it.  While some unfortunate things do befall the characters in the novel, the overall feel of the book is so warm and subtly positive, that you just know that each girl will eventually find her way.  The book begins with Amber, a young woman with two dads who faces bullying at school, ostensibly because she is “different”.  Amber decides to take a risk and passes out invitations to form a secret society – the Moonlight Dreamers – to girls she encounters that look like they might share her desire to revel in uniqueness and go after their dreams.

The characters in the book struck me as particularly authentic creations.  Maali, the youngest of the group, possesses a wonderful naivety and sense of openness to the world around her – yet struggles with the simple task of talking to a boy.  Amber, on the outside, has all the makings of a confident young woman who isn’t afraid to walk to the beat of her own drum, but worries endlessly about being too different for people to like her for who she is.  Skye is still grieving the death of her mother and desperately wants to take the next step and perform her poetry in public, but is in conflict with her father over his new relationship.  And Rose, the accidental Dreamer, seems so worldly-wise, but desperately needs the approval of friends who are prepared to get to know her outside of her famous parents’ shadows, in order to gain the confidence to follow her dreams.

There’s something amazingly engaging about watching these characters tackle what are, for the most part, typical problems that many teens face.  The story is told in alternating perspectives so by the end of the book, the reader has had plenty of time to get to know each of the girls as individuals and watch how their interactions propel them towards facing their fears.  There’s a refreshing simplicity in the telling of the story that allows the characters to come to the fore without being shackled to the stereotypical portrayals that are grist for the mill of many contemporary YA books, where the focus is on predictable romantic relationships or fitting into expected social roles at school.  The author has managed to clearly show the girls as they are, and want to be, because the girls themselves – rather than their romantic interests or school troubles – are the focus.

If you know a young reader (or an older one!) who could really do with a bit of positivity in their lives and an affirmation that they are perfectly okay just as they are, then I would highly recommend getting a copy of The Moonlight Dreamers into their hands.  Apart from the fact that it will inspire you to pursue your dreams under fortuitous moonlight, it’s just a cracking good read and a story to soothe the fears and worries of the troubled soul.

Utopian Themes:

Books as solace for the weary heart

The wit and wisdom of Wilde

Friendship as a transformative power

Serendipitous discoveries

Youthful exuberance

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

protective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubble

Five out of five protective bubbles for the security of knowing that one is not alone in one’s difference.

Although this certainly isn’t the type of YA that I generally go for, I did thoroughly enjoy The Moonlight Dreamers and was left with a warm, fuzzy feeling in my stony jaded heart by the end of it.  It also got me thinking about starting my own secret society, but I haven’t decided on a theme yet, so until then, keep my idea under your hat.

Don’t forget to check out author of The Moonlight Dreamers,  Siobhan Curham’s guest post about creating authentic teen characters!

Until next time,

Bruce

Tripping Back Blue: A Great Expectations Review..

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GREAT (1)

I should probably start by saying that this is more of a “Hopeful Expectations” review because I didn’t have great expectations upon discovering today’s book, but rather hopes that it would be an unusual piece of writing in the YA genre.  Happily, I can say that my expectations were mostly met – hooray!

So what is today’s book?   Tripping Back Blue by Kara Storti, which we gratefully received from Walker Books Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Finn is a 17-year-old full of paradoxes. He’s a drug dealer, but he’s scoring money to send his twin sister to Harvard. He’s desperate to shoot up even though he’s the most popular kid in Dammertown. He’s a philosopher and orator who’s failing all his classes. The only time he finds peace is when he’s bird-watching. Finn’s life begins to spiral out of control, until he discovers a miracle drug called indigo. Finn is convinced that the drug is the way out of everything broken in his life. But is it really as magical as it seems?

tripping back blue

What I Expected:

Initially, before reading some reviews of this one, I expected a typical “teenager-struggling-with-drugs-story” that happened to have an extremely pretty cover.  On reading a few reviews and finding out that the drug causes users to relive their happiest memories, AND that one of the major characters is an old lady who eventually befriends Finn, I began to get interested.  With these two tidbits of information in hand, I began to hope that this book would blend a bit of fantasy or magical realism with the drudgery of drug use and lift an average story to something unusual and enticing.

What I Got:

Overall, I’m happy to say, I got exactly what I expected.  Perhaps not to the extent that I would have liked, but certainly the base elements of my expectations were all present.  There is an interesting and somewhat volatile relationship between Finn and the old lady, Orah, that drives the indigo plotline.  There is plenty of soul-searching (under-the-influence soul-searching, but still…) from Finn as to whether what he is doing is right, wrong or outside the bounds of morality all together.  The ending is unexpectedly action packed and violent and carries a real atmosphere of danger and confusion.  There were also some interesting twists on the “reliving your happiest memory” device, as the drug doesn’t always work as it is expected to, for Finn at least, as well as an in-depth exploration of human nature, as every character here is flawed in some way and no one is purely evil or pristine.

For the most part, then, I enjoyed this read.  I am not a fan of drug use, talk about drug use, deep explorations of the user’s mind etc (either in real life or fiction) and there was a lot more of this in the story than I initially expected.  Admittedly, all the reviews I read mentioned this and it’s hinted at in the blurb, so I shouldn’t complain.  I was hoping for a little more of the magical realism element around the creation and distribution of indigo, but the story doesn’t suffer particularly for the lack of it.  The segues into talk about birds and random animal facts were a diverting inclusion and fleshed Finn’s character out a bit.

Would I read this book again? Probably not.  Am I glad I ran across it? Definitely.  Is it a standout of the genre? Not really, but it certainly has some original touches that make it worth a look if you enjoy contemporary YA that doesn’t shy away from difficult social issues such as drug use, poverty and family violence.  Plus, you might learn something interesting about birds.

Until next time,

Bruce

Magrit: An MG Good, Sad and Quirky Review…

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Today’s review nearly ended up being a “Great Expectations…” review because my level of expectation for today’s book was impossibly high, but I have decided to unleash my psyche on you instead.  Magrit by Lee Battersby (author of such bizarre adult fiction favourites of the shelf as The Corpse-Rat King and The Marching Dead) is a middle grade, beautifully presented foray into a graveyard full of surprises.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Magrit lives in an abandoned cemetery with her friend and advisor, Master Puppet, whom she built from bones and bits of graveyard junk. One night as Magrit and Master Puppet sit atop of their crumbling chapel, a passing stork drops a baby into the graveyard. Defying Master Puppet’s demands that the baby be disposed of, and taking no heed of his dire warnings, Magrit decides to raise the baby herself. She gives him a name: Bugrat. Magrit loves Bugrat like a brother But Master Puppet know all too well what will happen when Bugrat grows up – that the truth about them all will be revealed.

magrit

The Good:image

If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and have wished that there existed a book very like it, but suited to a younger audience, Lee Battersby has fulfilled that wish in Magrit.  The book is set in a beautifully atmospheric cemetery, wherein the inhabitants lie forgotten and a self-contained, private sanctuary has been chiseled out of the silence.  Magrit is an easy character to follow along with; a carefree nearly-ten year old, whose imagination is fed to bursting by her mouldering home and her questions answered by the all-seeing Master Puppet.  Master Puppet is a great, original character, I must say – a skeleton patched together from various discarded bones and lashed to the cross atop the cemetery’s chapel, dispensing wisdom and criticism in a voice that is practically audible while you read.  The plot is easy to follow for young readers, and while adult readers (and indeed, canny youngsters) may pick up on which way the wind is blowing reasonably early in the story, the ending is unexpected and satisfactorily ambiguous.

The Sad image

If you have not read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, then this criticism will pass you by and not affect your reading of Magrit at all.  If this is the case for you, I am truly happy that you have yet to discover the magic of both of these wonderful books.  The only problem I had with this story is that it felt far too much like The Graveyard Book.  So much so, in fact, that I felt like Bod and Magrit could have easily lived in Bod’s graveyard at the same time, with Magrit’s corner cordoned off in some way so that the two never got around to meeting.  The reason this was a problem is that because I read The Graveyard Book years ago on its original release (our dust-jacketed, hardbacked edition has pride of place on our shelf, with only slight paper-specklage after eight years), and have since re-read it multiple times, Bod, Silas and the gang have taken up residence in my brain as the superior graveyard-dwelling crew.  Again though, if you haven’t read The Graveyard Book, you should find Magrit and Master Puppet entirely original and thoroughly unique.

I would also have loved to have seen a bit of the quirky, bizarre humour that Battersby inserts into his adult fiction works make its way into Magrit’s story.

The Quirkyimage

The presentation, both inside and out, of this first edition of Magrit is something else entirely.  For a start, the textured hardback cover fits neatly in your hand and the raw edges of the pages are tinged an inviting pale purple.  The beautiful papercut illustration on the front sets the tone for the gorgeous reading experience awaiting you.  The pages inside are bordered in similar papercut designs and Master Puppet’s dialogue is always printed in a spectacularly eye-popping font, which is both a handy visual cue for younger readers and serves to enhance that unique character voice that I mentioned earlier.  Overall, there has been a great deal of consideration put into the visual presentation of this book and it greatly enhances the reading experience.  I can just imagine the coveting that will go on amongst mini-fleshlings when this one hits the school library shelves!

I also loved that Battersby references Catharine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and its Dead in his acknowledgements.  This is a reasonably large and dense non-fiction tome that I checked out of the library years ago, before I started blogging, as part of my attempt to read all the death-related things.  I just like the idea that other people have read a reasonably obscure book that I randomly checked out of the library many years ago.

Overall, I am so glad I pre-ordered this one and didn’t wait around on the off-chance that I would get the opportunity to get a free review copy.  This is definitely a book that you won’t regret purchasing and displaying in a prominent place on your shelf to amaze your friends and confuse and dismay your enemies.

Until next time,

Bruce (and his psyche)