What’s In A Name Challenge: The Boy Who Lost His Face…

7

Afternoon all! All this thinking about the Small Fry Safari KidLit Readers Challenge that I will be hosting in 2014 (do join us, won’t you?), reminded me in rather abrupt fashion that I haven’t actually finished the What’s In A Name Reading Challenge that I started this year…oops.

WIN6 Beth Fish Reads reading challenge

A quick health check noted that I only have three books to go, and while scrabbling around for a replacement book in the Lost/Found category, I happened upon a book on my to-read pile that fit the bill perfectly: The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar.

Taken from: the Non-Christie Listie as a late replacement

Category: Six– a book with Lost or Found or the equivalent in the title

In an attempt to fit in with the cool crowd, David helps to steal an old lady’s cane, humiliating her in the process.  The old lady curses David and over the next weeks, all the things that the boys did to the old lady start happening to David.  David must find a way to break the curse or forever live in fear of breaking bottles full of liquid, falling out of his chair and having his pants fall down.

boy who lost his face

The Book’s Point of Difference

Well. I’m not sure. It’s pretty standard middle grade fare.  Possibly the fact that there is an inordinate amount of swearing, and many references to the Three Stooges.

The Pros:

– David is a very ordinary kid and therefore very relatable.  He’s obviously trying to do the right thing, but fate seems to have other plans.  The banter between David and his small new posse of friends is quite funny at times, also.

– There is a sweet little romance plotline that develops nicely as the book goes on.  Nothing too sappy and nothing too overdone, but it adds another dimension to the story.

– This one reminded me a lot of middle grade books from the late 80s and 90s.  All the angst of early puberty is being played out here in a very safe way, and therefore this book will have great appeal to its target audience.

The Cons:

– As I said, there is a LOT of swearing for a middle grade book.  Nothing too extreme, but it is quite frequent.  As an adult reading this, it didn’t bother me in the slightest, but it may upset parents/delight the target audience…you’ve been warned.

Overall, this is another good read from Sachar, with all the humour and oddness that fans would have come to expect.  Certainly the themes of honesty and being one’s self aren’t rammed home too hard and there is plenty here to keep the younger readers engaged.

…On that note, if you’re looking for a readers challenge for 2014, why not check out the Small Fry Safari KidLit Readers Challenge?  Click on the button below for more details -we’d love to have you aboard!

image

Until next time,

Bruce

Follow on Bloglovin
my read shelf:
Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

What’s In A Name Challenge: Absent in the Spring…

4

So here we are again, Obstacle Number (insert accurate number here) in the What’s in a Name Reading Challenge: Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott (aka Agatha Christie)…

Taken from: the Christie Listie (as a late and rather sneaky replacement)

Category: Six – a book with lost or found (or it’s equivalent) in the title

So it turns out Agatha Christie, cheeky little dame that she is, penned some romance novels under the name Mary Westmacott, and thought we wouldn’t notice.  Well, I didn’t actually, until it was pointed out to me.  But I’m glad I found out because it gave me a bit of scope to widen out the Christie Listie for this challenge.

Absent in the Spring centres on Joan Scudamore, an upstanding citizen and all-round walking moral compass, who finds herself waylaid by a flooded track on her train journey home from looking after her sick grown-up daughter.  During this period of unwanted exile, she reflects on her relationships so far and discovers some not altogether pleasant home truths about herself and the way others see her.  But how will she use this newfound knowledge?  One never knows when Ms Christie is at the pen….

absent in the springThis Book’s Point of Difference:

I must say, I’m not really one to go in for romance novels.  Luckily for me, this novel has absolutely no romance in it at all.  It’s more of a psychological portrait of the main character and in that regard is gripping in a not too demanding way.

Pros:

– I was surprised at how engaging this book actually was.  Despite the fact that most of the book is essentially a one-woman show, the strength of old Joan as a character and her willful denial of the painfully obvious really drives the book along.  Having said that, it’s also the type of book that you can pick up and put down and is light enough to be a great choice for a beach read…although given my aversion to, and lack of experience with, beaches, perhaps you’ll have to make that call yourself

– The style and voice are typical Christie.  By the end of the first page I was comfortable in the knowledge that I was with an old friend and master storyteller

– The ending has a twist.  I wasn’t expecting one, given that this isn’t a mystery story, but there is one nonetheless and I think it really adds to the post-reading, thought-inducing factor of the book

Cons:

– The style and voice are typically Christie. So you may spend the first few chapters (or indeed the whole book, depending on the level of your fandom) expecting someone to be discovered having been horribly murdered.

– There are no Belgians in this one, detective-like or otherwise

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.  I will definitely make it a point to read more of “Westmacott’s” back catalogue at some point.

Until next time,

Bruce

Follow on Bloglovin

or on GoodReads

What’s In A Name Challenge: Curtain…

4

poirot 3

Obstacle number six (I think) in the What’s in a Name Reading Challenge: Agatha Christie’s Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case….cue melancholy music.

Taken from: the Christie Listie

Category: Two – a book with something you might find in the kitchen in the title.

Book rated according to:

Rate of Moustache-Twiddlage: The level of engagement with the plot as measured by the extent to which anxious body language emerges in the reader…

Red Herring Haul: relating to the level of mis-clues present…

Butler-osity: The complexity of the revelation at the end (based on the foundation level of non-complexity in which the Butler is identified as the one who did it)…..

Common-or-Garden-ness: the formulaity of the plot set-up, cast of characters and reveal. Otherwise known as the Retired-Colonel-Ometer…

Rate of Contextual Controversy: or the extent to which racist, sexist or other generally a-bit-off-by-today’s-standards references are casually scattered about the text

curtain

Poirot and Hastings and a cast of likely characters meet at a guest house at Styles, scene of Poirot’s first case.  Poirot, in poor health, tips Hastings off to the presence of a quintuple murderer in their midst and bids him discover the victim before the murderer can act. Shenanigans ensue. Hastings gets it wrong. As do we all. ‘Cept Canny Hercule. Of course.

Moustache-Twiddlage:  starswhite1-md

I found it hard to engage with this one for some reason – possibly because Poirot is (a) absent from most of the action and (b) smugly guarding the knowledge of whodunnit.  Quite frankly, I would have been quite happy to see all of these characters murdered in their beds. Except for Hastings.

Red Herring Haul: starswhite4-th

There are plenty of red herrings here, mainly due to the fact that Hastings has been told to search for a the kind of person who has a knack for pinning their dastardly deeds on others.

Butlerosity: starswhite4-th

This one is different from any other Christie I’ve read so far, because the murderer turns out to be someone who….no, I won’t spoil things for you. But it’s an unusual reveal, that’s for sure.

Common-or-Garden-ness: starswhite5-md

The entire cast is made up of Christie favourites…

.”Returned from service in India, you say?”

“Why, yes. Quite.”

Contextual Controversy: starswhite1-md

Nary a mention of any unpleasantness in this regard. In fact, Judith, Hastings’ daughter, is a bit of a feminist for the time period. She’s also a right old pill in my opinion, but that’s off the topic.

The Plot in a Poem:

Stopping this killer is far from certain,

so some will face the final curtain!

Overall:

As I said, I didn’t really find this one all that engaging and the ending was somewhat unsatisfying.  Luckily I have plenty of Poirot’s early career still to explore.

In other What’s in a Name news, having looked over my non-Christie-Listie I’ve found that some of my original choices are not yet available at my library, or in Australia generally, and are too pricey for my liking at my book buying place of choice.  For that reason, if anyone has any alternate suggestions for me for books in categories one (up or down), five (emotion), or six (lost or found), they would be seriously considered.

Until next time,

Bruce

What’s in a Name Challenge: Death in the Clouds…

2

poirot moustache cat

 

Obstacle number four….possibly five….I forget…in the What’s in a Name Reading Challenge – Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (cue ominous music).

Taken from: the Christie Listie

Category: One – A book with up or down (or the equivalent) in the title

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Christie Listie review, so in case you had forgotten, I am basing my reviews for this list on five main criteria:

Rate of Moustache-Twiddlage (for Poirot novels) or Stitch-Droppage (for Marple novels): This refers to the expected level of engagement with the plot as measured by the extent to which anxious body language emerges in the reader…

Red Herring Haul: relating to the level of mis-clues present…

Butler-osity: which refers to the complexity of the revelation at the end (based on the foundation level of non-complexity in which the Butler is identified as the one who did it)…..

Common-or-Garden-ness: the formulaity of the plot set-up, cast of characters and reveal. Otherwise known as the Retired-Colonel-Ometer…

Rate of Contextual Controversy: or the extent to which racist, sexist or other generally a-bit-off-by-today’s-standards references are casually scattered about the text

death in the cloudsAn ordinary group of air travellers are stunned to find a murder has been committed in their midst during their flight. Police are even more stunned to find out that apparently nobody witnessed what they assume to be a very visible and attention-catching mode of dispatching a victim.  Luckily the famous Hercule Poirot happens to be one of the passengers on the flight of death and fiscal misfortune (as I like to think of it)….let the shenanigans commence!

Moustache-Twiddlage: starswhite5-md 

I was thoroughly gripped throughout, and inevitably thought I had the killer figured out well before the reveal.  Even more inevitably, I was wrong….although not far off.  Part of the fun of this one was the fact that I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, and was therefore quite content with any of them turning out to be a devious, cold-blooded murderer.

Red Herring Haul: starswhite4-th

From annoying buzzing insects to isolated South American tribesfolk, this book has a veritable trawler-load of mis-clues to keep you guessing.

Butlerosity: starswhite4-th

The reveal to this one was very….revealing….   If you are able to predict who the killer/s is/are in this one prior to the reveal, then I honour you as a certified Christie genius.  Honestly, it was almost impossible to deduce the circumstances surrounding  this death, which could be highly satisfying or endlessly annoying depending on your viewpoint.

Common-or-Garden-ness:      starswhite3-md

While there is a fairly predictable cast of characters, there is no retired colonel, which was a bit of a disappointment for me.  Thankfully, this was made up for with the inclusion of a fantastically caricatured crime writer and at least one person pretending to be someone else.

Contextual Controversy: starswhite1-md

Very low. A few passing references to the shadiness of foreigners.

The Plot in a Poem:

Ingesting some dodgy airline curries

turned out to be the least of their worries.

Overall:

A thoroughly enjoyable romp and some of Poirot’s finest cogitations. Although not having read an awful lot of Poirot novels, please be advised that I may not be fully  qualified to pronounce on Poirot’s cogitations with any great certainty.

Until next time dear readers,

Bruce

Reading Challenge Re-booted: Smoke and Mirrors…

5

Obstacle number 4 in the What’s In A Name Reading Challenge: Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman…

Taken from: the Non-Christie Listie

Category: Four – a book with fire or the equivalent in the title

Smoke and Mirrors is a collection of more than 20 of Gaiman’s collected short stories.  I always knew I wanted to include some Neil Gaiman in this challenge, and on opening this one up with great anticipation…..I realised I had already read it. Undaunted however, I decided to dive in again, and as the memories came flooding back with the stories, I recalled what is so great about Neil Gaiman generally, and this book specifically.

smoke and mirrors

This book’s Point of Difference:

This collection spans a really wide range of content and style, meaning there’s something here for everyone. 

Pros:

– There are so many stories here that if you find the one you’re reading doesn’t take your fancy, there are plenty of others to try.

– There’s a nice mix of humour and creepiness here, reflecting Gaiman’s usual approach.  From the charmingly quirky “Chivalry”, featuring a hen-pecked Galahad on his quest for the Grail, to the utterly bizzare and bawdy “Eaten”, you will find every oddity imaginable discussed in these pages.

– Gaiman’s introduction is a novelette in itself, and contains its very own impromptu short story.

Cons:

– This is definitely a book for adults, which may disappoint some of Gaiman’s younger fans.

– Some of the subject matter is really quite weird and creepy, which, if you aren’t expecting it can be a bit off-putting.

Teaser Text:

Mrs Whitaker found the Holy Grail;

it was under a fur coat.

If you’re a Gaiman fan, this will be an extra little nugget of goodness to digest at your leisure.  If you’ve not read any of Gaiman’s work before (for shame!), you may find it more satisfying to start with one of his excellent novels, such as The Graveyard Book, or for a briefer introduction, one of his picture books, such as Instructions (pictured below).

  graveyard book 2

instructions

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Challenging Reads: January First…

1

Ahem. Let me assume *serious reviewer mode* today as we delve into…..

Obstacle number 3 in the What’s in a Name Reading ChallengeJanuary First: A Child’s Descent Into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her by Michael Schofield.

Taken from: the Non-Christie-Listie

Category: Three – A book with a party or celebration in the title

January First is the memoir of Michael Schofield, father of January (Janni) Schofield, a little girl who has been diagnosed with childhood schizophrenia. It charts the extreme lengths that Janni’s family had to go to before her illness could be diagnosed and appropriate help obtained.  I was drawn to this book after seeing this family’s story on television – notably on Oprah and Dr Phil .

january first

This book’s Point of Difference:

That would have to be it’s unusual subject matter and the author’s voice…more about that below.

Pros:

– Well, it’s certainly an interesting read.  The author relates the day-to-day struggles of living with a child with extreme (and inexplicable) behaviours and I’m sure many parents would be able to relate to at least some of what he describes, if not to the levels exprienced here.

Cons:

– I had a couple of problems with this book. Firstly, I came to this book after having seen the family in documentary style tv shows….from those it was obvious that Jani had some major differences in behaviour from your average 8 or 9 year old, and required medical intervention.  Unfortunately, in the book, the way her father describes some of these behaviours makes it seem as if Jani is just the typical, naughty brat one might see in the lolly aisle of the shopping centre, screaming until it gets its way.  I found this off-putting, as part of the family’s struggle was getting professionals to understand that her behaviour was atypical and dangerous to herself and others. 

– Michael Schofield narrates the story with a spectacular disregard for his wife’s (Jani’s mother’s) abilities and level of caring about their daughter.  In fact, almost everyone in the book is depicted as having a far lower level of rapport and ability to manage Jani than Schofield himself. I’m not sure whether this was a deliberate attempt to relate the actual dynamic of the relationship and his real emotional responses to the situations they found themselves in – he does address this briefly towards the end of the book –  but I found his narration arrogant and coupled with my first con, it left me with the (unwanted and judgemental) feeling that it was unsurprising that he didn’t find the help Jani needed sooner.

Overall:

I wanted to like this book more than I did. I was hoping it would be an insightful glimpse into the lack of services available for mental health generally and children’s mental health specifically.  It did accomplish this to a degree, but I really struggled with building mental rapport with the author and this diminished my levels of empathy toward his situation.  If you would like to give this one a try (and it’s certainly worth a look, despite my cons) I would suggest doing so after viewing some of Jani’s story on video, to give you an idea of Jani as a person. 

Here’s a little bit of Jani’s first appearance on Oprah Winfrey, to start you off.

Oh, and if  you are wondering why I started off calling her Janni and changed to Jani, all will be explained in the book.

Until next time, campers!
Bruce

 

 

 

Are you Prepared for the Jam-pocalypse?: What’s in a Name Reading Challenge…

2

Obstacle 2 in the What’s in a Name Reading Challenge: Jam by Yahtzee Croshaw…

This is the first title I’ve attempted from my Non-Christie-Listie, as well as the first title from Category 2 (something you might find in the kitchen) and I am happy to report that it has been successfully (and cheerfully) vanquished.

JamThis is Croshaw’s second novel, after Mogworld, and it certainly displays the same swift and silly plotting and characterisation.  Jam follows the story of Travis, a young man who wakes up one morning to discover that his city (incidentally, the one in which I also reside!) has been invaded by flesh-eating jam.  So begins a rollicking romp around Brisbane (Australia, not Texas) involving a cheeky tarantula, plenty of ironic ironicisms and plastic bag fashions a-plenty.

This Novel’s Point of Difference:

Um. I’d say it’s probably the jampocalypse aspect.

Pros:

  • One of Croshaw’s great strengths is silliness-in-appropriate-quantities and this book is jam-packed (pun-intended).with the same. There’s a lot of humour and laugh out loud lines in this book – it’s really one for when you need a bit of a chuckle or aren’t in the mood for anything too heavy in the thinking department.
  • It’s set in Bris-vegas….I quite enjoyed seeing the cityscape on the front cover and being able to recognise the Gotham City Building (I don’t know it’s actual name…since it was built everybody I know has only ever referred to it as the Gotham City Building)
  • It’s a fantastically welcome change from Zombie-related apocalypses (apocalypsi??), and scary, bring-us-all-down dystopian thrillers.

Cons:

  • It’s silly.  Now I realise I just put this in Pros, but I’ve read a lot of reviews (from people who are familiar with Croshaw’s work, weirdly) that panned this book because some of the events depicted were too silly to be credible.  I found this a bit odd, considering the whole premise is based on apocalypse by carnivorous strawberry preserve.  But I suppose, if you are after strictly believable scenarios, this is not the book you’re looking for.
  • I found it hard to recognise my own city in parts of this work….Croshaw faithfully recreates Brisbane landmarks and general layouts, except in the naming of two buildings in which most of the action takes place.  So the Myer Centre becomes the Briar Centre, and the Hitachi building becomes the Hibatsu building….but other landmarks, such as the Wintergarden and plenty of streets are given their proper names….as a local, I found this irritating as it got in the way of me picturing the action as it was occuring in places I know very well.
  • Croshaw uses plenty of American dialect words despite mostly Australian characters in an Australian setting – for example” ice pops” (we call ’em ice blocks here), “community college” (TAFE), “janitor” (cleaning staff), “middle school” (we only have primary and high), “wastepaper baskets” (bins)….I found this quite SPECTACULARLY annoying.

Teaser Text:

He sighed. “There isn’t much we can do without electricity, but my team has been researching alternatives.  One of my engineers proposed a system of fans powered by dogs in giant hamster wheels, but the major issue there is our limited dog inventory.  We’ll keep looking into it”.  p199

Although I have listed three cons, in honesty, if you are not a Brisbanite, it is unlikely you will even notice the specific local references (or lack thereof) that irritated me so.  If you’ve never tried Croshaw’s work before and you are open-minded, enjoy a bit of silly humour and particularly if you are aged 20 – 40 and interested in gaming, you should probably give it a go.

Oh, and here’s a link to some pictures of the Gotham City Building for your viewing pleasure:

http://www.flickriver.com/photos/tags/statelawbuilding/interesting/

Until next time,

Bruce