Mini-reviews by Lee Murray. Wherein I cannot manage to write in-depth reviews for all the fabulous books on my device, but I want to feed as many authors as I possibly can, so I cobble together a selection books I have enjoyed recently and put up some quick-fire reviews that I hope will somehow translate into the sales equivalent of a cup of coffee for the authors concerned.
Diary of a Kiwi Kid by Robin Lee-Robinson
In Diary of a Kiwi Kid, most of the narrative involves entries from the 1977 diary of Rosalyn Rondell, which are then framed by entries of her young relative, Jack Rondell in 2017, who provides insight into the whakapapa of the family. Set in Gisborne, and populated with whānau, community members, and Rosalyn’s school chums, the story is more of a portrait of the naively compassionate main character, Rosalyn, than any real attempt to solve the mystery of her disappearance. It is, however, laugh-out loud funny. The writing is spot on, naïve and often chaotic, Robinson perfectly capturing the voice of her young protagonist, and some of the malapropisms Rosalyn coins will have readers rolling in laughter. Here’s a single entry from the text:
Boring school day. Boring, that is, until Melissa O’Brien wet herself. Mr Morrissey went to the caretaker’s shed for a bucket and mop. No one offered to help. Melissa was crying so hard she got sent home. Serves him right that he had to mop up the puddle himself.
Melissa asked to be excused three times. Mr Morrissey looked at his watch. He made her wait for the morning break. That will teach him.
I asked to be excused straight after that and he said yes. Then I said, “no, I think I can wait, Mr Morrissey,” hopping from one foot to the other. He said in a gruff voice, “You are excused.”
“No, but,” I began, and that’s when he shouted at me, “Go now. And hurry.”
Mr Morrissey should retire from teaching If he can’t cope with the stress.
As with any diary, the story meanders according to the minutiae of daily life, with young Rosalyn chronicling her battles with Mr Morrissey, taking up writing, and enjoying holidays with an eccentric auntie. Deeper though, Robinson addresses important issues such as identity, sexuality, social responsibility, and alcohol abuse—albeit seen from Rosalyn’s limited nine-year-old understanding, making this an excellent 'shared read' for parents to read aloud to children. Diary of a Kiwi Kid is intended for a middle grade-YA Kiwi readership: it is full of Kiwi vernacular, Māori terms, and cultural traits which require some understanding. Yes, there is a glossary of lesser known Māori phrases in the back of the book, but these only cover a small proportion of the terms used. Because of this, I think the book is likely to be a tough read for children in other countries. On the other hand, as an adult child of the 1970s, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Indeed, as a snapshot of a children’s lives in middle New Zealand in the 1970s, Diary of A Kiwi Kid is an excellent memoir, which will resonate for many of us. [ISBN 978-0-73-45519-4. Diary of a Kiwi Kid is currently only available in print. For details contact redhenbooks at gmail.com]
Bad Vision by Dave Jeffery
UK writer Dave Jeffery is the author of twelve novels, two collections, and numerous short stories. A health professional by day, Jeffery’s body of work comprises predominantly dark fiction written for adult and YA readerships. However, since Bad Vision involves adult themes and graphic moments of extreme body horror, IMHO it is definitely not suitable for YA! It takes a certain sangfroid to conjure scenes like this and yet none of the horror is gratuitous, Jeffery choosing his moments carefully in order to build suspense. A dual protagonist tale, the novella is, in fact, two parallel stories artfully interlaced to create a single cohesive narrative. In the first, a man struggles with his inability to get medical, family, community or even spousal support in the face of a debilitating and terrifying premonitory disorder. In the second, a young woman, abandoned as a small child, is able to turn her life around before gaining the attention of an office stalker. Overall, I enjoyed Bad Vision in an awful-but-can’t-look-away sense. Jeffery is a sure-bet for a creep-show read. I really only encountered one issue while reading Bad Vision and that concerned the formatting of the ebook version: there are no section breaks indicating the change of point of view, so several times I missed the change in narrator, confusing me and causing me to backtrack a paragraph or two. Not enough to detract from the story, but hopefully the publisher will consider rectifying that for future issues.
Dragon Hero: Riders of Fire Book 2 by Eileen Mueller
Hot on the heels of the first book, Ezaara, the second book in Eileen’s Mueller’s Riders of Fire series is now available. Another vibrant quest from two-time Sir Julius Vogel Award winner Eileen Mueller, Dragon Hero is the story of Ezaara’s twin brother, Tomaaz, and begins the moment Ezaara is swept away from Lush Valley by the Dragon Queen. The twin’s mother, Marlies, sets off that very night on a strange quest that will take her into the heart of their stronghold of Commander Zens, and his brutal army of cloned tharuk warriors (think bipedal warthogs with superpowers). Delaying long enough to help save his childhood village from marauders, Tomaaz then sets off to save his mother and on the way uncovers his family’s secret, a fledgling love, and a faithful friend. Much darker than the first title in the series, this episode builds nicely on the world-building and characterisation of the first book, and yet can still be read as a stand-alone text. There are the familiar fantasy tropes the readers of dragon quests will love, including a flawed and ill-informed hero, a down-trodden damsel, hopeless battles and daring rescues, as well as a good dose of magic. However, despite fitting firmly in its genre, this new adventure has sufficient that is fresh and original to keep the reader turning the pages. And that Christian Bentulan cover is magnificent. Recommended for fans of epic journeys and redemption.
The Novel Planner by NovelReady
While this isn’t exactly a book, The Novel Planner by NovelReady comes in book form and is available on the usual book platforms, so I’ll review it here briefly. Spiral bound, this easy-to-use workbook is a step-wise system for planning and writing your novel, including devising your story’s structure, plot events and subplots, character development, and a scene-by-scene approach to drafting. I love the white space, well thought out drafting templates, and targeted prompts. The mind-maps are especially helpful for writers who like a visual means of developing story threads and character arcs. Perfect for both established and emerging writers, this workbook makes an ideal holiday gift. Nanowrimo participants will want to get their hands on one well ahead of next year’s event in order to streamline their planning and improve their chances of success. A simple yet effective tool. Highly recommended.
The Beard and Other Weirdness by Steve Dillon
I was able to get my hands on a copy of Steve’s Dillon’s collection The Beard and other Weirdness ahead of its release on December 6. Dillon is well-known down under as the publisher-editor of the Things in the Well series of dark fiction anthologies, each featuring a selection of horror stories on a theme from contemporary and iconic writers. However, this book is Dillon’s personal collection. Comprising two novellas, several short stories, some vignettes from one of the author’s own ‘worlds’, as well as numerous short stories and original cover art, this miscellany provides a good snapshot of the breadth of Dillon’s creative talent. His prose style is perhaps best described as traditional, since the stories are typically personal accounts (narrated in third person limited) where plot events are processed in the head of a single character, with dialogue used only sparingly throughout. The overall theme of the collection is death and its consequences, although this is loosely applied; Dillon coming at his subject from numerous fronts. The short story Death in the vignettes section examines the story of Norma-Jean Hopwood’s unexpected resurrection, for example, whereas Unholy Beginning, a tiny three-line story that has stuck in my mind ever since, addresses the troubling theme of abortion. There is a lot to digest in this collection, not just the range of literary formats, but also images and ideas that linger long after the book has been put down. Stories of note include the title story The Beard, and The Memory Man—a favourite from the Below the Stairs anthology. I really enjoyed The Circus Runner and was rather sorry to read in the foreword that the author doesn’t intend to develop this work further. The science fiction space horror short story The Edentia was a highlight for its rare inclusiveness and innovative use of language. An intriguing and provocative collection. Definitely worth picking up a copy when it is released next week. [Note - Limited distribution via the Things in the Well website]
Disclaimer: I have meet, or conversed online, with all of the authors whose works are reviewed here, so you should really take my comments with a pinch of salt. The only way you can be sure if I am spot on with my reflections is to purchase a copy of these books and find out for yourself.