A Picture Book Double Dip: Two Eye-Popping Non-Fiction Titles for Mini-Fleshlings of an Inquisitive Nature…

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Morning all! Today I am bringing you a doubly delicious feast for the eyeballs as we dive into two non-fiction picture books that will have you and your mini-fleshling scratching your respective heads in wonder.  Let us commence!

ifIf: A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers by David J. Smith and Steve Adams, does exactly what it says on the box (well, cover).  Each double page spread deals with a particular quantity or size that is difficult to conceptualise and with the aid of delightful and inspiring illustrations, puts things into metaphorical perspective.  The concepts include the size of the galaxy, the relative time span of various historical events, and relative wealth distribution across nations.  This is a nifty and engaging follow-on from Smith’s original masterpiece, If the World Were a Village.

Dip into it for…

…some fantastically fun representations of numbers and ideas that might otherwise make your head explode.  Although this book and its predecessor are ostensibly for middle grade children, there is plenty here for older readers to get their teeth into.  As well as the parts of the book that contain the “Wow! Isn’t that amazing!” sort of moments, such as the galaxy reduced to the size of sports balls, Smith has once again included information that invites reflection on the social and personal implications of seemingly objective statistics.  Information about wealth distribution and life expectancy by continent will prompt the more savvy young reader to ask why such things might be so.  Might I suggest that if you are a teacher of children in this age group (or even older ones!) this book will make a conversation-starting addition to your classroom library.

The illustrations are a major drawcard in this book too.  The formatting of the information, coupled with the bright, descriptive pictures make this a book that you want to pore over.  With information scattered across each double page spread, it’s also designed to be read with a friend.

Don’t dip if…

…you are a pedant.  Really, we know that by the time the book has been out for a few years the social statistics will be wrong, we get that Neptune isn’t EXACTLY the size of a soccer ball.  If you feel the uncontainable urge to inform us of these kind of annoying tidbits, then this book is not for you.  Begone, killjoy.

Overall Dip Factor

This is a must-read book in my opinion.  And if you haven’t read Smith’s earlier work, go read that too.  If you are a teacher, or the parent/carer/librarian/next-door-neighbour/creepy-book-giverer of a child aged 8 to 12 years, go and get this book and read it with them – then feel the neurons connecting. In both of your brains.  I would also recommend it for those who struggle to make conversation at dinner parties.

So what’s your favourite bizarre statistic or big number comparison?!

optical illusionsOptical Illusions: An Eye-Popping Extravaganza of Visual Tricks by Gianni A. Sarcone and Marie-Jo Waeber takes the reader on a mind-boggling journey through famous and not-so-famous visual trickery.  The book is divided into illusions based around shape, size and distance, colour and apparent motion and impossible figures, with an extra section at the end providing some cheeky tests which the reader can self-administer in the pursuit of personal enlightenment.  Each section contains a wide range of illusions paired with a small amount of information and some questions to try out.

Dip into it for…

…endless hours of fun! I would like you to picture yourself back in the classroom of your youth.  Upper primary sort of age.  Cast your mind back to the naughtiest kid in your class during silent reading time (it’s a boy, isn’t it?).  This is exactly the type of book that that kid would knock people over to grab off the shelf.

The information here is easy to read, easy to follow and yet hard to get your head around.  The illusions are simply laid out and interesting to gaze at and puzzle over even if you don’t bother to read the associated text. (Although I do recommend reading the text!!).  Again, this is the type of fun, engaging read that will have children and adults alike picking it up for a flip through.

The answers to all the puzzles are collected in a handy section at the back. Don’t cheat though. I’m watching.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t have time to spare. You will get sucked into this book if you do pick it up, so make sure that you have time to devote to it.  Similarly, it may do to have a break while you are reading, because after a while your eyeballs might feel like they’re revolving of their own accord.  Particularly during the section on apparent movement.

I would also suggest that you probably shouldn’t bother dipping into this one unless  you get it in print.  While I got the overall feel of the book with a digital copy, I think the experience would have been a lot more enjoyable if I didn’t have to keep rejigging the zoom function and page view to keep certain images within view.

Overall Dip Factor

This is a thorough introduction to visual illusions and the ways that they have been used in art, design and architecture through the ages.  It is simple in format, but will no doubt provide endless entertainment for kids (and their adults) as they puzzle over the various images.

So what’s your favourite optical illusion?  Mine has to be…Labyrinth. The whole movie. But especially that David Bowie’s face is hidden in five places throughout the film, apparently.

So there we are – a bit of non-fiction fun for your dipping enjoyment. I received both titles in digital format from their respective publishers via Netgalley.

Until next time,

Bruce

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A Maniacal Book Club Review: The Frankenstein Journals…

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manical book club button

Allow me to bid fair morning to you, be you fleshling, stone-ish or monstrosity uncategorised.  Today the Maniacal Book Club is proud to present and discuss the soon-to-be-released middle grade novel The Frankenstein Journals by Scott Sonneborn, dealing, as it does, with the growing pains of a monster on a quest.  We were delighted to receive a digital copy of this illustrated lovely from the publisher via Netgalley – our sincerest thanks!

The Frankenstein Journals follows fourteen-year-old J.D. (John Doe) from the moment he learns that the only home he has ever known – Mr Shelley’s Orphanage for Lost and Neglected Children – is about to become his ex-abode, as Mr Shelley is no longer financially able to keep it open.  Before leaving, J. D. discovers his father’s old journal and is astounded to discover that he is the son of Frankenstein’s monster, and made up of a collection of …shall we say…recycled body parts.  Rather than being daunted by this new information, J.D. sees it as the perfect opportunity to obtain what he’s always wanted – a proper family – and resolves to seek out the descendents of those who once belonged to his parts and inform them of their tenuous biological link.  Before setting off on his quest, J.D. meets one Fran Kenstein, the daughter of the famous scientist and finds out that she too would like to meet J.D.’s family…but for reasons that are distinctly more sinister.  Now it’s a race against time, and J.D. is determined to find his long-lost cousins before Fran gets there first and sets whatever dastardly plan she has concocted into devillishly devious motion.

frankenstein journals

Now pop in your most high-functioning spare eyeballs for the thoughts of the Maniacal Book Club!

maniacal book club toothlessToothless 

This was a fun book to read even though there were no dragons.  There were some monsters though, so that was almost as good.  In one part there’s a sports mascot convention and there’s an enormous building filled with a huge crowd of people dressed as all kinds of animals and monsters.  And then a wolf-man turns up and started slashing things.  That was my favourite bit.  I really liked J.D.  He sounds like a fun and adventurous kind of guy. Shame there were no dragons though.  Maybe there’ll be some in the next book.

maniacal book club martha

Mad Martha

Being from the patchwork-monster genus myself, I found much to empathise with as I read J.D’s adventures.  And what a loveable young rogue he is, as pure of heart as any monster could feasibly be.  As usual, I have created a poem to express my enjoyment of this book.  I thought I’d branch out this time to limerickery.  Enjoy.

A lad formed from patchwork quite frightful

Met a lass with a plan truly spiteful.

He hoped for the best

and set out on a quest,

Sure his family would find him delightful!

maniacal book club guru dave

Guru Dave

Brothers and sisters, I hope with every stony fibre of my being that you grasp the message of hope that the son of Frankenstein’s monster presents to you in this book – the message that no matter how different one may be from others, by trusting in the goodness of one’s fellow wayfarers on life’s journey, a place of belonging can be found for all of us.

Heed also, my friends, the bad example of Fran Kenstein – that evil can dwell even in the hearts of the cutest teenage scientist.

 

maniacal book club bruce

Bruce

Now I’ve been reading a lot of middle grade fiction of this genre lately, and while this doesn’t quite match up to the slick, funny and original Origami Yoda series, for instance, The Frankenstein Journals has a charm all its own.  In this offering we are treated to the first two legs of J.D.’s body-part hunt (see what I did there?!), as he searches for the relations of his feet and one of his eyeballs (the green one, incidentally).  In the middle of the book there’s a sort of short recap of the first half of the story,  so I’m not sure whether the publishers originally intended on even shorter episodes, or whether they are catering to readers with short attention spans.  Either way, the plot is simple and flows from scene to scene with very little to slow the action. J.D., the main character, is so perfectly friendly and positive that you can’t help but hope for the best for his quest across continents to seek out his long lost family members. 

While the book would easily suit the interests of both genders, this will be a particular hit with boys.  In fact, I would suggest that while this is a middle grade novel, its appeal would lean toward the lower end of that age bracket, and I can certainly see confident readers around the eight to nine year old mark being thoroughly sucked in to J.D.’s silly and humorous adventures. 

What really added to the overall appeal of the book for me was the eye-poppingly colourful illustrations that appear throughout the story.  They absolutely bring J.D.’s story to life and will no doubt be very much appreciated by younger readers.  I have to say, the illustration of the “crowd scene” during the mascot convention that Toothless has already alluded to has got to be my favourite – like a Where’s Wally? of the animal kingdom, but without the distinctive bobble hat.

Our final deliberations have led us to the conclusion that this will be a hit with the monster-loving tween set, and for that reason it receives 8 thumbs up from the Maniacal Book Club.

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The Frankenstein Journals is due to be released on August the 1st.

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang!)

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Fiction in 50 July Challenge: The Path to Enlightenment…

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Welcome to the July session of Fiction in 50, where those with a passion for brevity pit their wits (and writing implements) against a prompt and a strict 50 word limit.  If you’d like to join in, the rules are simple:

1. Check out the prompt for the month

2. Create a piece of fiction in 50 words or less

3. Post it somewhere on the interwebs

4. Link it up to the linky in this post, or share the link in the comments

It’s that simple! But for a slightly more in-depth explanation of the challenge and to get the skinny on upcoming prompts, click on the large attractive button at the top of the post. New players are ALWAYS welcome! In fact, new players are encouraged because it gives us all some new blogs to stalk enjoy.

This month’s prompt is…

path to enlightenment

And here’s this month’s linky, which will remain open until the week prior to the August challenge:

 

Here’s my entry for the month. I have titled this piece…

An Attack of Wisdom

“It’s a Chihuahua.”

“Not just any Chihuahua. It’s been specially bred to detect spiritual giftedness in humans!”

“This is ridiculous. You people … OUCH!..It BIT me!”

Turning as one, the crowd began to chant:

“Embightened one! Embightened one!”

With the blossoming pain came clarity: I was a latent guru, unleashed!

I’ll just take a moment to appreciate the unintentional pun that occured with the last word of my efforts.  Right, moving on, now it’s your turn!  Link up, hop around, and enjoy the brilliantly brief writings of your fellow blog-wranglers!

Next month’s prompt will be…

last place you look

Until next time,

Bruce

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Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: What Milo Saw….and a Fi50 Reminder…

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imageAhoy and avast, ye shelf-lubbers! Today I have a book for grown ups, told from the perspective of two of my favourite fleshling-types: children and old people.  Actually, it’s told from multiple points of view, but we’ll get to that later.  And before I go any further, allow me to remind you that Fiction in 50 for July will be going live on Mondayand this month’s prompt will be…

path to enlightenment

To find out more, just click on that attractive button over there.  We’d love to have you play along!

Now, back to business – today’s offering is What Milo Saw by Virginia MacGregor.

Nine-year-old Milo suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, which causes him to see the world as if looking through a pinhole.  But Milo often spots things that others miss.  When Milo’s beloved Gran moves out of their home and into Forget-Me-Not nursing home, it seems that Milo is the only one that can see how Nurse Thornhill mistreats the patients.  With his mother reeling from the recent, girlfriend-and-new-baby laden departure of his father, the only one Milo can rely on is his pet pig, Hamlet.  Then Milo meets Tripi, a Syrian refugee and the cook at Forget-Me-Not, and things start looking up.  As Milo digs deeper into the scandal at the nursing home, he will need all the help he can get to expose Nurse Thornhill and her brutal ways and save the day – as well as saving his Gran.

what milo sawRead it if:

* you believe pigs (and elderly Grans) are for life, not just for Christmas

* you’ve ever wondered why nursing home patrons never look like they’re having any fun

* you’ve ever found a new friend in a very unlikely place

* you thoroughly enjoy stories in which old people get to break free from the shackles of advanced age and live a little

I seem to be bringing you a lot of books with elderly protagonists lately – and why not, I say! I love them, generally (the books that is, not necessarily the old people.  That’s on a case by case basis).  What Milo Saw is a one part mystery, one part humour, and one part relationship novel with beguiling characters who are all handicapped by their situation in one way or another.  Milo has a problem with his eyesight, Gran’s mind is fading, Sandy (Milo’s mum) is having a hard time after her relationship break-up and Tripi is a refugee with no papers who has left his twelve-year-old sister behind in Syria.  As individuals, they have great difficulties overcoming their various problems, but when they start working together, problems seem to be quickly resolved.

I really enjoyed reading this book mostly because of the genuinely likeable characters,  but I never got to the point of really loving it.  While the plot was reasonably complicated, with the lives of various characters overlapping in interesting ways, the overall telling of the story was somewhat formulaic.  I felt that a few of the elements, such as Milo’s eyesight problems and the inclusion of the pig, were a bit contrived and didn’t necessarily add anything to the story overall, apart from a quirky hook in the blurb.  Similarly, while the characters were likeable, they were mostly quite two-dimensional.

Nevertheless, despite these niggling issues, the book was a fun, engaging read and had plenty of humour to spark things up.  The use of multiple points of view to tell the story also helped my enjoyment of the book, as it allowed for a few twists in the story that would otherwise have been missing.

Overall, I think this would be a great holiday read, or a book for those times when you don’t want to have to work too hard and are looking for something with a bit of heart and humour.  What Milo Saw is due to be released on July 29th.

Until next time (get those Fi50 ideas churning!),

Bruce

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A Little Ripper Read-it-if Review and GIVEAWAY: The Girl from the Well…

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It is not often that I get to bring you a book that is a hands-down, five-star, should’ve-got-it-in-print read.  Don’t get me wrong, I do bring you lots of wonderful, interesting, original and exciting books on this here shelf, but today I’ve got one of those special ones.  It’s a keeper. The kind you buy in hardback and keep on the “special” shelf (wherein lie the oldest knick knacks with the most sentimental value).  Basically, this one is a guaranteed re-re-re-re-read.  (NB: that last bit wasn’t a hitherto unencountered stutter that I’m developing, just a fancy way of saying “book that you will read multiple times”).

I give you….The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco.  This book has loose ties to the Japanese film The Ring, that was later remade in English and if you know anything about that film, you will immediately gain the understanding that this book is not all flowers and sunshine.  If you don’t know anything about that film, it is apparently spectacularly terrifying and psychologically scarring.  I haven’t seen it, because I am far too sensitive to expose myself to horror films of this ilk.  Having said that, I am SO GLAD I requested this book to review because it is fan-fugu-tastic (as they say in the Simpsons).  Allow me to synopsise synopsisise tell you about the plot.  And if you live in the US or Canada, stay tuned for a chance to win a copy at the end of this post.

Tarquin is a teen who has trouble fitting in.  His mother has recently been sectioned in a psychiatric hospital for (among other things) attempting to kill her son, he and his father have just moved interstate to try to start a new life and, oddest of all, Tarquin has to try and fit in to this new life while attempting to hide his tattoos.  The tattoos that his mother put on him when he was a little boy.  Callie is Tarquin’s older cousin, who works as a teaching assistant at the junior section of Tarquin’s new school.  When she’s not dealing with kids who have decidedly odd abilities, she attempts to watch over Tark and try to help him fit in.  Okiku is dead.  But she’s still here.  After a long, long, long time, she’s still here.  And she knows that there’s something weird going on with Tarquin and his tattoos.  As the story unfolds, the reader is treated to a tale filled with kidnap and murder, ancient evil, creepy dolls, ghosts hell-bent on revenge and happenings that lead Tark back to his native Japan.  But unless he and Cassie can find the right people to help them overcome a lurking, malevolent presence that is desperate to escape into the world, they may find that their lives will suddenly become a lot shorter than they expected.

the girl from the well

Read it if:

*you like a scary story that has the potential to be terrifying and psychologically scarring, but also has a few elements thrown in to ensure you won’t be dragged screaming and ranting to the loony bin after reading it

*you’ve always been creeped out by Granny’s collection of hideous porcelain dolls staring with their blank, dead eyes from behind their glass cases

*you’ve ever had (or seen, or been told about) a tattoo that you later thought was a spectacularly poor idea…and that’s before it starts bubbling and moving under your skin

*you’re looking for a lesson on Japanese culture, history and legend that is not the kind you’ll find in history classes at school

The first and best thing I can tell you about this book is that it is compelling.  Compelling is the word that I use to describe books that I either (a) can’t put down or (b) keep thinking about and being drawn back to whenever I’m not reading it.  This was definitely the latter.  The Girl from the Well is a chunky read that took me a number of reasonably long sittings to get through, but whenever I took a break I was thinking about the story, the characters and how the book was going to end.  That, in my opinion, is the mark of great writing.

There is so much going on in this book, and I think that’s one of the reasons I was so drawn into the narrative.  We start off meeting Okiku, a spirit who is on a mission to hunt down and murder those who have threatened or killed children.  Now, while this might seem immediately off-putting (or fantastic, depending on where you sit on the love-of-horror-o-meter), there’s a real vulnerability about Okiku that had me sympathising with her and her situation right from the start.  Then we meet Tarquin and his weird tattoos, Cassie and her kids that appear to have ESP, and a sinister man who one can only conclude is up to some serious mischief involving helpless children.  We meet Tarquin’s mother, and discover that Okiku is not the only murderous spirit getting around.  And when that part of the story gets resolved, the narrative shifts everyone to Japan where the action kicks off again with ancient evil aplenty and the aforementioned creepy dolls and slashing and hacking and terrifying action.  I can’t say much more because it would be a definite spoiler, but there is plenty to keep you awake at night in this book – and not just from abject terror, either.

Because really, the story isn’t that terrifying.  Sure, there’s horror-type stuff going down and a number of scenes of violence and murder, but I never felt like it was over the top or too scary that I had to put the book down – and that’s saying something, coming from Mr Scaredy Pants extraordinaire.  I think that because most of the book is narrated by Okiku, and even though she’s a vengeful, murderous spirit, there’s something comforting about her ethical. justice -driven approach, and the posthumous journey of personal growth that unfolds for her over the course of the book.

And finally, I loved the Japanese elements of the story.  It was thoroughly refreshing to experience a contemporary YA novel with such an integrated focus on an Eastern culture and their legends and history.

In short, get this book. Get it now! If you live outside the US or Canada,  preorder it now, because it’s not released until August 5th.  If you happen to live in the US or Canada, enter this giveaway and possibly WIN a copy now!  Simply click on the rafflecopter link below and cross your fingers:

click to enter button

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Many thanks to SourcebooksFire for providing a copy of the book for this giveaway.

I, as an outside-the-US-and-Canada-dweller will just have to acquire it myself in print, as I received it as a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Until next time horror-lovers,

Bruce

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A quickie for poetry fans: Odeful and Other Poems…

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Today I have for something for the young and the lovers of poetry.  Those two often go together, don’t they?  The image of the youthful, angst-ridden poet railing against the world with wordy weapons is quite easy to conjure up.  Happily though, the poems that you will find in Odeful and Other Poems by Jennifer Recchio are not angst-ridden in the slightest, despite being pitched as poetry about coming-of-age in this crazy, technological world.

odeful

This collection did seem to me to be particularly short, but even given the limited overall length Recchio manages to cover quite a range of content and styles.  A number of poems made me chuckle and chortle, a few had me connecting with a deep and poignant part of my inner self and one or two even had me scratching my head at the oddity of it all.  After These Messages was undoubtedly my favourite of the lot – a bizarrely funny little piece spelling out what might happen for those characters we see every day in the advertising that surrounds us minute to minute.  The stanza:

Maybe these characters

are in group therapy

in commercial land

where they trade secrets

for overcoming hair loss

and cleaning those

hard to reach places

did spark in me a little concern for those commercial-bound characters.  Particularly the singing hamburger.  The Lives of Eris was another one I particularly enjoyed, rich in imagery about the eternal battle between Order and Chaos (who, incidentally, works at a Home Goods store), and the form of Assume This is a Poem will be familiar to anyone who has ever been subjected to maths exams in high school.

I’d recommend this one to anyone wanting a brief respite from the novel and who doesn’t mind dipping their toes into the deep and choppy waters of poetry every now and then.

Until next time,

Bruce’

* I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley *

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Flash Giveaway (Australia Only): The Buried Life…

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Yes, you heard right! It’s a flash giveaway and it’s exclusively for Aussie residents – yipyah!

Thanks to Angry Robot Books, I am giving away one print ARC copy of The Buried Life by Carrie Patel.  This gaslight/steampunk murder mystery is due for release in early August, so the lucky winner will be among the first to get their paws on a copy.

the buried life

Here’s the synopsis (from Goodreads):

The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Ricoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.

When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…

Sound like your kinda thing? Of course it does. So enter using the rafflecopter link!

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a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Good luck,

 

Bruce

 

 

 

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