TBR Friday + a Fi50 Reminder…

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

As difficult as it is to believe, it’s time for Fiction in 50 for September – that’s right, September.  I hope, as well as planning your Fi50s, you’ve also got your end-of-year shopping on the go already because there are just under 14 weeks to go until Christmas.

Scared you there, didn’t I?

I also figured that out using a handy little site called Weeks Until, which has a tool for you to figure out the waiting time until any date you like.  Nifty!

But back to Fiction in 50 business.  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

signs and wonders button

See you there!


TBR Friday

I feel like I’m doing well on my Mount TBR Challenge so far.  My aim was to knock over 12 books from my TBR shelf that I phsyically owned before the first of this year and to date, including today’s effort, I have managed to complete all the books from my original list!  TBR challenge list

This is excluding The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I decided not to finish, but including Hester and Harriet, which hadn’t arrived by the time I took this photo.  So hooray for me!  This means I will be able to add in a few extra contenders to make it over the #12 mark by the end of the year.

*crosses claws*

But let’s get on with today’s book, The Riverman by Aaron Starmer.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Alistair Cleary is the kid who everyone trusts. Fiona Loomis isnot the typical girl next door. Alistair hasn’t really thought of her since they were little kids until she shows up at his doorstep with a proposition: she wants him to write her biography. What begins as an odd vanity project gradually turns into a frightening glimpse into the mind of a potentially troubled girl. Fiona says that in her basement, there’s a portal that leads to a magical world where a creature called the Riverman is stealing the souls of children. And Fiona’s soul could be next. If Fiona really believes what she’s saying, Alistair fears she may be crazy. But if it’s true, her life could be at risk. In this novel from Aaron Starmer, it’s up to Alistair to separate fact from fiction, fantasy from reality.

the-riverman

Ten Second Synopsis:

Alistair doesn’t really know Fiona too well; despite the fact that she lives down the street, they stopped hanging out when they were about seven.  When Fiona chooses Alistair to be her biographer and tells him a story that is, frankly, unbelievable, Alistair will have to decide whether to risk believing in the unbelievable, or investigate what might be really going on in Fiona’s life.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

I ordered it from the BD on the 3rd of February, 2015 so it’s been on there since a week or so after that.

Acquired:

Purchased from the BD.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

Sheer laziness.  Plus, it felt like it might be a hefty read.  So again, laziness.

Best Bits:

  • I found this to be an extraordinarily good example of YA magical realism.  Or fantasy.  Both, really.  The story is complex and deftly woven and you are never sure whether Aquavania exists or whether it’s Fiona’s coping mechanism.
  • Even though the book deals with some grown-up issues, making it more appropriate for upper-end YA readers, Alistair is a perfectly authentic twelve-year-old protagonist, showing that combination of bravado, indifference and bewilderment common to kids of this age.
  • There’s a twist regarding the Riverman that was so unexpected as to be inexplicable – but this was okay because (a) it leads nicely into the second book and (b) it reinforced the atmosphere of confusion relating to the whole “is Aquavania real?” question.
  • The narrative style was absolutely engaging and provided a thorough exploration of the main characters, as well as the motivations of various others in the town.  I was super-impressed by how tight the story was and how expertly it had been put together.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • I can’t really think of any parts of the book I personally didn’t enjoy, but looking at it from another perspective, some readers may find the gaps in between the “fantasy” parts of the story too long.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Absolutely.  In fact, in no time at all I will procure the second book in the trilogy, The Whisper, and no doubt leave it on my shelf for a year or so, just for old time’s sake.

Where to now for this tome?

Straight to the permanent shelf.

If this has whetted your appetite at all, I will have another Aaron Starmer title for you next week – new release YA tome Spontaneous, which came to us with a free splatter jacket.  There might also be a giveaway to go with this one, but keep it under your hat!

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

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

The Gracekeepers: A Haiku Review…

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Welcome to another haiku review. It’s Mad Martha with you today with a book that was received from the publisher via Netgalley and features a beautifully described world (of the future? Possibly) in which water has changed the shape of the earth. It is The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, sending the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance. In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland (“landlockers”) and those who float on the sea (“damplings”), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives–offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future.

gracekeepers

Buried in the depths

Like the wreckage of worlds past

Lies the way back home

Although this book is set in a speculative future world (maybe), I want to describe it as literary fiction. The Gracekeepers is character-driven and relationship-heavy and when you get to the end, you may be left wondering what on earth just happened – or rather, what didn’t. This is one of those books where action is secondary to the exploration of the characters, their back stories and hopes for the future. While some may find this to be not their cup of tea, I was quite engaged throughout the whole story, mostly, I think, due to the excellent world-building that Logan has done here.

The basic set-up of the world is pretty simple – water has subsumed most of the land and left humans with the choice of living as farmers and gatherers in settlements or spending their life on the high seas. There is a certain animosity, or at best, distrust between the landlockers and the damplings, with damplings facing mild discrimination when on or near the land. Damplings must wear bells on their shoes, for instance, when on the land to denote their dampling status. Similarly, with land at a premium, damplings are not allowed to bury their dead on the land, but must take their deceased to a graceyard to be tended to by a Gracekeeper.

The rituals around death described in the graceyards were fascinating and imaginative and one of my favourite parts of the story was our introduction to Callanish and her solitary life, surrounded by dead, dying, or soon-to-be dying birds. The story is told in alternating points of view between Callanish and North and I appreciated the regular change of pace between the quiet reverie of Callanish and the busier experience of North and the circus.

I don’t think this book is going to be for everyone, because I did have a very strong sense of “Well that was nice – now what’s next?” on finishing. I really did feel engaged while I was reading the story but afterwards I wasn’t sure what I could take from it. If you enjoy books that are character-driven and feature strong, original world-building then I would encourage you to pick up The Gracekeepers, but be aware that it’s not a book with a pat message or typical plot piece.

Until we meet again, may all your birds be free from mourning responsibilities,

Mad Martha

Fairy Tale Makeovers: A Bean, A Stalk and A Boy Named Jack…

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My fairy tale makeovers review series has been lagging a bit of late, so I am happy to present you with a fun little makeover of Jack and the Beanstalk for the early years crowd.  I gratefully received a copy A Bean, A Stalk and a Boy Named Jack by William Joyce and the alliteratively named Kenny Callicut, from the publisher, Simon and Schuster, and was immediately drawn to the gorgeous colours and sweeping vistas of the illustrations.  There’s also an extremely underwhelmed Brahman bull that pops up here and there that had us all giggling from the get-go, so watch out for him!

a bean a stalk and a boy named jack

When drought hits the land, all the King’s subjects must line up to do their bit – their bit specifically being producing tears in order to provide water to wash the King’s stinky pinky toe.  After some slight interference from the King’s daughter and the Royal Wizard, a smallish boy and a smallish bean join forces to solve the problem of the stinky pinky, and return equilibrium to the kingdom.  When Jack (the smallish boy) plants Bean (the smallish bean), an oversized stalk erupts and delivers the unlikely pair to the crux of the problem – a (smallish) giant kid having a giant bath!  With a bit of friendly conversation and due consideration, the water problem is rectified and the King’s pinky becomes unstinky.  Cue bathing! Cue rejoicing! Cue…another fairy tale?!

**For some odd reason – it could be something to do with the writing – but I imagined this whole tale beginning to end read in a Brooklyn-ish accent.  It seemed to fit perfectly and really added to the experience for me, but you know, it’s just a suggestion. **

At 58 pages, A Bean, A Stalk and a Boy Named Jack, is a slightly longer than average picture book, but the engaging and colourful illustrations, many of them covering double page spreads, just suck you straight into the adventure.  The tale is narrated in a fun, laid-back tone, and while there’s no rhyme, there are plenty of repeated phrases for the young’uns to join in with.  The text is laid out in a combination of clear black type and colourful speech bubbles and this mixes things up and provides a bit of interest.

Jack is immediately likeable and Bean is possibly the cutest vegetable ever to grace the page and the remaining members of the  ensemble cast just seem to want to solve the stinky pinky problem and return the status quo.  There’s not a lot of wild adventure here – more of a meeting of like minds – but it’s definitely worth a look simply to appreciate the eye-catching art and gentle humour gracing the pages.  I especially liked the cheeky twist at the end of the tale which leads into another fairy tale (Jack, of course, being a common name in fairy tale circles), but I won’t spoil it for you.

If you are looking for a fun, relaxed twist on the Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum that exchanges bone-grinding for hygienic bathing practices and water conservation, then this is the fairy tale makeover for you!  I must admit, paging through it again has sucked me straight back into the beautiful illustrations, so I’m going to sign off now and spend a few more moments giving my eyeballs a visual treat.  Don’t mind me.

*clears throat in preparation for Brooklynish accent*

A Bean, A Stalk and A Boy Named Jack was released on October 1st.

Until next time,

Bruce

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