Posts Tagged ‘Quirky’

The Finding of Martha Lost – Caroline Wallace

Posted in Books about Books, Literary Prizes on March 10th, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

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Publication Date – 10th March 2016

Publisher – Doubleday

The Finding of Martha Lost is a glorious, glittering kaleidoscope of a novel with vivid, magical characters popping into view with each turn of the page. In this tale of objects, feelings and relationships lost and found, there is the most beautiful backdrop of characters who wouldn’t look out of place in the Commedia dell’Arte with Martha Lost making an excellent Columbine/Pierrette or perhaps, in more modern times a scatty Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.

So, where is the exotic setting for all this magical mayhem – why, Lime Street Station, Liverpool of course! Under the grime and the soot, there’s a world of humour and whimsy but not without its undercurrent of sadness. Martha’s Mother with a most definite capital M, ensures that Martha remains tied to the station, like the Liver Birds chained to the Royal Liver Building.

Caroline Wallace’s novel is a veritable smorgasbord with lots to delight the reader – The Beatles, a Roman Soldier on the 17.37 from Chester, lemon drizzle cake, the Heatwave of 1976 and last but not least Kevin Keegan who may have tugged on my heartstrings in the mid 70s with his curly locks…

I like to conclude reviews by stating similarities between the book in question and others but Caroline Wallace’s novels defy categorisation. In the immortal words of Dana, this really is “all kinds of everything”.

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The Death of Bees – Lisa O’Donnell

Posted in Contemporary Fiction on March 13th, 2013 by admin – 8 Comments

The Death of Bees

Published
07/03/2013

Publisher
Windmill Books

ISBN
9780099558422

Source
Publisher

My Rating
5 stars

Today is Christmas Eve.  Today is my birthday.  Today I am fifteen.  Today I buried my parents in the backyard.  Neither of them were beloved.

With opening lines like these I was immediately hooked and drawn into the story of fifteen year old Marnie, her twelve year old sister Nelly and their neighbour Lennie all of whom take turns to narrate this quirky, original tale.   Marnie and Nelly’s parents were never really there for them anyway, they were more concerned with drugs than childcare, so their sudden deaths could be some sort of release for the girls.  However, the burden of keeping their deaths secret weighs heavily on their young shoulders and you wonder how long they can keep the truth buried…

Not for the faint-hearted this is a short, snappy narrative set in Maryhill, Glasgow in 1980.  It would be an understatement to state that Marnie and Nelly have had a tough life so far – they epitomise dysfunctionality to such an extent that suspension of disbelief is, at times, a prerequisite.  Marnie is the street-wise one, sexually active, drinking, doing drugs whilst Nelly lives in her own little world (a lot more pleasant than the real one!), playing Bach on her violin, eating cornflakes with Coke and employing a distinctly archaic turn of phrase,

Marnie has taken up with a boy. He must be a very humorous chap for she giggles and gasps at everything he has to say.  She is positively smitten with the fellow.  I have no interest in boys.  They smell of socks and  oil.  I wish they’d look to their books.

Nelly seems very much on the autistic spectrum but that’s just part of her personality and I find it hard to turn off my Aspie Radar!

With the use of three different narrators, it is easy to differentiate between the characters and hear each individual voice.  Amidst the darkness there is a dry humour which makes Marnie and Nelly all the more likeable and you are rooting for them to forge a better life for themselves hoping that the  bonds of sisterhood will overcome their diametrically opposed temperaments.  This is an unusual, earthy coming of age tale with characters which will engage and stay with you long after you  turn the final page.

An excellent debut novel, highly recommended.

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The Palace of Curiosities – Rosie Garland

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on March 4th, 2013 by admin – 4 Comments

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (28 Mar 2013)
  • Source: Amazon Vine
  • My Rating – 4 stars

This is a promising debut novel which will appeal to fans of quirky fiction peppered with a dash of magical realism. Alternate chapters tell the stories of Abel, the Flayed Man and Eve, the Lion Faced Girl whose lives intertwine when they both perform in Josiah Arroner’s Palace of Curiosities. Estranged from “normal” society, they share a basic human need for acceptance and love.

Their story is told in the present tense, similar to The Night Circus and like Erin Morgenstern’s debut, this will probably be a “marmite” read. There are elements of the grotesque as you might expect in a tale about those characters considered freaks by the rest of society – probably not to be recommended for those of a sensitive nature!

I really enjoyed this whimsical tale of unconventional characters set against the backdrop of a murky Victorian London. Looking forward to reading more from this author.

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The Night Rainbow – Claire King

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on January 30th, 2013 by admin – 6 Comments

The Night Rainbow

Published
14/02/2013

Publisher
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

ISBN
9781408824672

My Rating – 4 stars

Source - Amazon Vine

Claire King’s debut novel is an absolute delight with a narrator who will grab your heartstrings and never let go. Set in Southern France, during a blistering hot summer, this is the story of five year old Pea aka Peony aka Pivoine and her younger sister Margot. Their mother has retreated into herself following a miscarriage and the later death of their Papa. Maman is heavily pregnant again but Pea and Margot are left to their own devices, wandering the countryside where they meet up with Claude, a middle aged man with whom they strike up a friendship. Not everyone approves of their friendship but Maman’s absence, both physical and emotional, means that the girls have to fend for themselves.

Narrated by Pea, this is a beautifully written story with equal amounts of joy and sadness. Pea and Margot’s interactions will make you smile as they strive to make a plan to cheer up Maman but the smiles quickly vanish when their efforts fall flat. Yes, there is sadness here but the overall mood is one of optimism as Pea just bounces back and looks for another remedy for her mother’s despair.

The author has captured Pea’s five year old voice perfectly, that eternal optimism, the desire to live in the moment, the clarity of vision which can see when grown-ups are just overthinking and making things more complicated than what they really are. One could learn a lot from a child like Pea. This is a sparkling, quirky, captivating debut, highly recommended.

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Maggot Moon – Sally Gardner

Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on November 23rd, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

Maggot Moon

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 6th 2012 by Hot Key Books
My Rating – a fabulous 5 stars!

Our narrator, the wonderfully named Standish Treadwell, is left bereft when his best friend Hector mysteriously disappears, probably taken by the tyrannical goons of the Motherland – a totalitarian regime where dyslexics like Standish are held in scant regard.  The Motherland is intent on winning the space race, getting to the moon first without caring who gets hurts in the process.  However, what if it was all one big ploy, designed to keep people in their place?  What if someone like Standish, someone perceived to be weak, could debunk the whole scam?
As Standish himself remarks
You see, the what ifs are as boundless as the stars.
Equally boundless, it would appear, is Sally Gardner’s wonderful imagination and ability to draw the reader into another world, a parallel universe not that far removed from our own.  Using simple language she presents a brutal world, a scary place where folk like Standish are not expected to stand up for themselves.  Standish’s neighbourhood, Zone Seven, could be anywhere, any time in history and whilst his day to day life is fraught with danger, he faces the same dilemnas as any teenager – establishing your own identity, forging friendships, learning from your mistakes.
Now shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award 2012, Maggot Moon deserves to become a children’s classic.  Fans of The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece and Wonder will love this quirky, engaging novel and will perhaps fall a little in love with Standish, your not so average hero.  Highly recommended for all ages from 12 upwards.

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The Tiny Wife – Andrew Kaufman

Posted in Contemporary Fiction on April 19th, 2012 by admin – 5 Comments

The Tiny Wife

ISBN: 978-0-00-742925-7
Size: 111x178mm
Format: Hardback
Imprint: The Friday Project
Division: HarperPress

My Rating – 4 stars

The Tiny Wife is a thing of beauty, 80 pages of carefully wrought words enhanced by sharp, silhouette illustrations.  Not a single word is wasted in this contemporary fable with echoes of Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm and even a little pinch of Italo Calvino.

Our story opens in contemporary Toronto where a thief carries out a bank robbery with a difference – he asks each customer for the object which is of most sentimental value  to them.  It transpires that they have also handed over part of their soul and each victim experiences rather unpleasant side-effects.  The narrator’s wife, Stacey, starts shrinking with the worry that she will disappear forever, one woman’s husband turns into a snowman, a lion tattoo on a woman’s ankle comes to life, another woman turns into candy.

Somehow, these characters who seem to have stepped straight out of a travelling sideshow or Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected, retain a whimsical, magical air which lifts them out of the truly macabre.   Each reader will take something different from this box of delights, even a moral lesson not to take others for granted if you wish to be educated!  A quirky, idiosyncratic read for those who like a little touch of magic in their everyday lives.

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The Bellwether Revivals – Benjamin Wood

Posted in Contemporary Fiction on January 21st, 2012 by admin – 6 Comments

The Bellwether Revivals

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd (2 Feb 2012)
  • I was drawn to this like a moth to the light – I can’t resist novels set in academic environments with quirky, over-privileged characters who I’d be tempted to throttle in real life.  It’s always a bonus if this elite group assimilates someone from a lower class, hoping to mould him in their own image.  Brideshead Revisited and The Secret History rank amongst my all-time favourite reads so The Bellwether Revivals should be a shoo-in….but is it strong enough to forge its own path or is it just a readable homage?

    I’m delighted to report that The Bellwether Revivals is a very distinctive, debut novel with its own identity and power.  Oscar Lowe, a young Care Assistant, finds himself drawn into another world when he meets and becomes romantically involved with Iris Bellwether, an undergraduate at Cambridge.  It is the hypnotic organ playing of Iris’s enigmatic brother Eden which draws Oscar into a church and acts as the catalyst for a series of disturbing events.

    The characterisation is superb – you feel like you’re right beside Oscar, meeting Eden for the first time, being magnetically drawn to this rangy, curly haired, eccentric/mad creature who thinks he can heal via the medium of music.   Eden’s friends and family feel compelled to protect him but is he merely a tad idiosyncratic or a real danger to himself and others?  Iris is torn between loyalty to her brother and her burgeoning romance with Oscar.  Mater and Pater live in splendid isolation, with only a vague interest in their children, as long as their grades are good.

    From the very first page I was drawn into the compelling and, at times, unnerving world of the Bellwethers.  The opening will hook you as we begin with an ending and you really have to find out how we get there.  An excellent debut novel which will appeal to fans of Brideshead, The Secret History and The Lessons by Naomi Alderman.  I can’t wait to see what this talented author comes out with next.

    My thanks to Net Galley for sending me this ARC.

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    The Family Fang – Kevin Wilson

    Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on September 9th, 2011 by admin – 1 Comment

    I do like a bit of quirkiness in my reading every now and then so I looked forward to getting my teeth (sorry!) into  ”The Family Fang”, the story of Caleb and Camille Fang and their children Annie and Buster aka Child A and Child B.   The children are now adults, trying to find their way in the real world, Annie as an actress and Buster as an author, but when their lives reach crisis point they have nowhere else to turn but back to the heart of their dysfunctional family.

    The novel focuses on Annie and Buster’s current problems and their much dreaded reunion with their parents but this is interspersed with accounts of the Fang family’s past performance art including staged events at shopping malls designed to shock and awe the unwitting shoppers.  I found these episodes simultaneously hilarious and horrific, laughing at the weirdness of it all but feeling quite uncomfortable at how the children were used as unwitting pawns, all for the sake of art. 

    Whilst Annie and Buster come across as fully formed, credible characters (despite their inauspicious beginnings), I was slightly disappointed by the portrayal of their parents who rarely depart from caricature mode.  Yes they are weird and surreal and I get that they strive to maintain their enigmatic aura but I would have preferred more insight into their motivation.  Having said that, I did enjoy this darkly comedic tale of family relationships.  If you liked   The Royal Tenenbaums then you will feel right at home with the freaky Fang family.

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