Stuck in a Good Book Giveaway Hop: Win Stuff!

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Welcome to my stop on the Stuck in a Good Book Giveaway Hop!

*cue streamers and balloons*

The Giveaway Hop is hosted by Stuck in Books and I am a Reader, Not a Writer and runs from the 20th to the 25th of September.  Don’t forget to scroll to the end of this post for a link to all the other participants.

Since we all have different opinions on what exactly makes a good book, I am offering ONE winner the choice of any book from the Book Depository up to the value of $10 Australian.  The giveaway is open internationally provided the BD ships to your country for free.  This giveaway is in no way related to rafflecopter, facebook, goodreads, the Book Depository, wordpress, or any other entity that is not me. Oh, and cheaters will be disqualified, so make sure your follows are verified.

Enter by clicking this link:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And here’s the link to the other participating blogs, so you can hop around and try to win more stuff. Stuff! YAY!

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Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

 

Until next time, good luck!

Bruce

Lariats at the ready for..Bruce’s Reading Round-Up! (Quirky Edition)

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Welcome to a new feature on the blog – my reading Round-Up! This is where I very briefly drag into focus some great books I’ve had the pleasure of encountering and believe should be wrestled into the spotlight for a good bout of oohing, aahing and appreciative nodding.  Today I’ve got four titles that are fun and odd and quirky and highly readable, so saddle up, pop on your book-herding hat and let’s chase some wild tomes!

Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest (A. Lee Martinez)15791459

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Helen, a teenaged minotaur, and Troy, an ordinary (extraordinary) lad reluctantly become questers after almost being sacrificed by their employer to a God made of animated hamburger meat.  While encountering funny and poignant quest tropes a-plenty, Helen and Troy must succeed or die – or alternately be violently murdered by a group of reluctant orcs.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s funny, with well-rounded characters in ethical-dilemma-inducing situations.  It’s a YA featuring a positive, hairy, giant, female role model, which is rarer than gelatinous-blob teeth.  It also includes almost every possible questing stereotype ever written, so will appeal to those who are part of various quest-related gaming/reading fandoms.

Brand it with:

Fantasy, questing, mythical creatures, rampant silliness, vintage cars

See my Goodreads review here!

 

Doctor Who: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Time Traveller (Joanne Harris)

23157198  Two Sentence Synopsis:

The Third Doctor is on the run from an alien race intent on executing him, when he accidentally lands in what looks to be a quaint English village.  Something about the creepy toy parade and false cheeriness of the residents tips him off that this might, however, not actually be a quaint English village.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s a brief Doctor fix that will certainly satisfy those who can’t be bothered with reading a whole novel or watching a whole episode.  The story has all the hallmarks of a classic D.W. adventure, with an ominous sky vortex, an unseen entity controlling the village and its residents, and a slightly rebellious companion known only as “The Queen”.  Plus, it’s a great introduction (or reacquaintance) to the third Doctor for those who haven’t encountered him.

Brand it with:

Sci-fi, timey-wimey, creepy monsters, horse chases

Read my Goodread review here!

Hildafolk (Luke Pearson)

9700137Two Sentence Synopsis:

A happy trip to draw in the mountains takes a frightening turn when Hilda accidentally discovers a troll.  After escaping to the welcoming warmth of home and hearth, adventure ignites when the troll comes knocking.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s whimsy in the non-cliched sense, with art that catches the eye and melts the heart.  Hilda is accompanied by a range of odd characters, including the enigmatic wood man who turns up to Hilda’s house when the door is left open and silently lays by the fireplace.  Take a chance on Hilda who is one-part Pippi Longstocking, one-part Clarice Bean and a million-parts friend-worthy.

Brand it with:

graphic novel series, mountain adventures, artistic endeavours, cute woodland weirdies.

See my Goodreads review here!

 

Duck, Death and the Tulip (Wolf Erlbruch)

4009037Two Sentence Synopsis:

Duck notices a coy but persistent presence lurking behind her and invites it to make itself known.  Interesting conversation and friendship ensue, until the inevitable end of Duck’s story.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is an accessible, gentle and thoroughly matter-of-fact treatment of existential angst and how one can engage with it to one’s benefit.  The characters are sparse but recognisable, the plot features ordinary events overlayed with important conversations and themes of acceptance and friendship  abound.  This is a great picture book for adults who like to ponder on the big questions of life in no more than 32 pages.

Brand it with:

picture books, existentialism, life and death, kids’ books for grown ups

Read my review on Goodreads here!

These are just some of the books I’ve been reading and enjoying lately but haven’t found space for in their own right on the blog.  I do post a lot of review on Goodreads that don’t make it to the blog, so feel free to send me a friend request if you like to frequent Goodreads yourself.  What books have you been rounding up lately?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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A Cheeky Read-it-if Review: I Need a New Butt…

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imageBoy have I got something for you today.  Now, admittedly, I am usually not the greatest fan of books that have anything to do with bums, backsides, pooh, farts or anything related to our sitting muscles, but after reading the blurb of today’s offering (and finding out that the author and illustrator are from New Zealand – hooray!) I decided to take a chance.

Today’s offering is titled I Need A New Butt by Dawn McMillan and Ross Kinnaird and after satisfying myself that it was not some kind of new-fangled exercise program aimed at fleshlings possessing large posteriors, but rather a picture book for the mini-fleshlings, I decided to give it a crack. (Pun intended).

What do you do when you notice your bum has a big crack in it? Start looking for a new one, of course!  The protagonist of this story is a young lad who needs a new bum to replace the (obviously broken) one that he currently owns.  His imaginative quest recounted in rhyme takes him through a whole series of wildly spectacular but not entirely practical candidates, until he realises that this cracked-butt business may in fact be occurring at epidemic proportions – his Dad’s butt has a crack too!

i need a new butt

Read it if:

* you have a boy (or manchild) in your house suffering from a crack in the bum area

*you enjoy books about embarrassing body parts

*you can see how a robotic butt fitted with extra hands could be both stylish and practical

*you would do anything to reshape the bottom you currently own (including selling your pet dog)

Surprisingly, I actually really enjoyed this book.  The rhyme was spot-on, the illustrations are hilarious and the story had a nice narrative flow.  Normally, as I said, I’m not the greatest fan of bum books because the story can veer off into that particular category of ickiness that should only really be enjoyed by eight-year-old boys, but I Need a New Butt is both non-icky and quite inventive.  For instance, the main character tries out a range of new bottoms, and carefully considers their pros and cons before refining his choice.  For exapmle, after realising that a bum made out of a chrome car bumper would be nice to look at and useful (for the headlights), it would probably be too heavy to carry around every day.

This book is going to be a hit with kids in the picture book age range, and, it must be said, with the dads of the kids in the picture book age range who get to read it aloud.  Overall, I think it’s a fun, cheeky option for those who like this kind of content.

And, to add my two cents worth, if I had the option of a new butt, I would definitely want one that does this:

butt_cannon_1761
Until next time,

Bruce

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

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ARC Read-it-if Review and GIVEAWAY: Jackaby…

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Greetings fiction fans! Today’s offering got me quite excited – it has a little bit of mystery, a little bit of magic, a little bit of investigatory detectivism, a historical setting and a fun, pacey plot.  It’s YA fantasy/paranormal detetctive novel Jackaby by William Ritter.  Stay tuned at the end of my review for your chance to WIN one of TWO SIGNED COPIES of Jackaby thanks to the publisher Algonquin – woot!

It’s 1892 and Abigail Rook is fresh off the boat in New Fiddleham, New England.  In her search for work, Abigail comes across a sign advertising the position of assistant to a detective of sorts.  On answering the advertisement, Abigail meets one R. F. Jackaby and is immediately drawn into a grisly murder investigation with a paranormal twist.  Jackaby, while being masterfully gifted in the ability to miss obvious social cues, is also possessed of a sight that allows him to see beyond the bounds of regular vision and notice all manner of beasties that inhabit reality, but exist outside the vision of ordinary humans.  And it is clear to Jackaby that this particular murder has been perpetrated by a supernatural being.  Unfortunately the local constabulary do not concur with Jackaby’s expert analysis, and Abigail finds herself scorned, threatened with arrest and locked up before the police finally come around to Jackaby’s way of seeing things.  With a handsome, but mysterious, young constable catching Abigail’s eye, a banshee heralding the death of all and sundry, an assortment of odd new housemates (including, but not limited to, an exotic flatulent frog and a man who has been transformed into a duck) and the whirlwind that is Jackaby, it’s a wonder that Abigail can keep any part of her mind on the job.  But if she and Jackaby can’t unravel this mystery in a hurry, Abigail could well meet a sticky end on her first real adventure.

jackabyRead it if:

* you liked Holmes and Watson but you always wished that at least one of them had magic powers…or that their villains did

* you are, or ever have been, a plucky young girl in search of an adventure, preferably one requiring the use of a leather-bound detective’s notebook

* you are the sort of person that, on being warned “not to stare at the frog”, take it in the spirit of a well-intentioned optional guideline, rather than a piece of prudent advice given with concern for your future welfare

* you enjoy rollicking adventures with cheery, cheeky banter, a mysterious, dangerous murderer and an oddment of fascinating characters

I was pleasantly surprised by Ritter’s work here and even though this is touted as a young adult book, I would happily place it in the adult fiction category without a second thought.  There’s nothing here that marks it out as specifically for YA and I quite enjoyed not being constantly reminded while reading that this was a story for a teenaged audience.  About a third of the way in, I was favourably comparing Jackaby with Lockwood & Co by Jonathan Stroud as both books seemed to have a similar pace and style of humorous banter between the main characters.  While this remained true throughout the book, Jackaby had a much greater focus on the intellectual, investigative part of the story, and the development of relationships between various characters than Stroud’s book, and also had fewer wild action sequences. By the end of the book, I was impressed with the way that Ritter managed to balance the various elements of the plot to produce a really engaging read and well developed characters within a historical detective story with a supernatural twist.

While I enjoyed the murder mystery part of the book, I did manage to guess the killer before the reveal.  This did diminish that part of the story a little for me, and if there had been a few more suspects to pick from, this might not have been the case.  On the other hand, as this could potentially be the first in a series (and I really hope it is!), a less complicated murder mystery allowed Ritter to give more space to character and world development, which definitely worked to the book’s advantage in my opinion.

If you are a fan of detective stories and murder mysteries, historical fiction or paranormal fiction, I think you should put this book on your radar.  It is the perfect book for snuggling up with under the covers, and as the book is being released in September this year, it’s just in time for you Northern Hemisphere mob to do just that! For us Southerners, we can spread out with it in front of the fan instead.

Now, to the WINNING! Algonquin have kindly supplied us with two, yes TWO, signed, yes SIGNED copies of Jackaby to give away.  This giveaway is open internationally and all you have to do to enter is fill out the rafflecopter below.  No cheating either. I’m watching you.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Until next time,

Bruce

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Adult Fiction Haiku Review: When Mystical Creatures Attack!

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imageWelcome my dears, to another haiku review with me, Mad Martha.  Today I have a book for you that is bizarre, hilarious, tragic, poignant, silly and moving all at once.  Well, I suppose not all at once. In turns, perhaps.  Suffice to say that Bruce and I agreed it has been the strangest and most rewarding reading experience of the year for us.  Let’s take a stroll into this unusual story, shall we?

When Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen Founds follows, in spectacularly disjointed fashion, the fortunes of (ex) high school English teacher Laura Freedman, and two of her (ex) students, Janice Gibbs and Cody Splunk.  Told through (amongst other things)emails, letters, school assignments, diary entries and psychiatric hospital workbook exercises, the reader is taken on a journey with Laura, Janice and Cody as their lives ebb and flow through lunacy, partial success and embarrassing failure.  Within these pages is a micro-level social history, depicting three individuals trying to eke out a satisfying existence in an uncaring universe…as well as a treatise on how mystical creatures could be harnessed to solve the problems of our time.

 

when mystical creatures attack

When life gives lemons

throw all but one at haters

then make lemonade

I know I’ve just said it, but this book really warrants saying it twice – this was both an utterly discomfiting and unutterably satisfying reading experience.  I have never seen a narrative format quite like this one. The style and the format will definitely not be to everyone’s tastes, but if you are looking for a read that is out of the ordinary and as deeply thought-provoking as it is silly, then I thoroughly recommend giving this one a try.

The book opens with a selection of essays from Laura Freedman’s English class, in which she asked them to write a story in which their favourite mystical creature solves the greatest sociopolitical problem of our time.  While reading essays titled, “How the Giant Squid Made Me Stop Being Pregnant” and “How the Cephalopod Balanced the National Budget”, I kind of got the feeling that this was going to be a funny book.  As the second chapter segues into sections of the welcome manual for the Bridges Psychiatric Wellness Solutions residential facility, and the third leads on to email correspondence between Janice and Laura, with Janice trying to find out why her teacher suddenly left school, it becomes apparent that this story is not all it appears on the surface.

I don’t want to spoil the story too much for you, so I’m not going to give you much more detail as to the content of the book.  I went into it fairly blind, requesting it for review mostly because of the title and the tantalisingly short blurb and I think that lack of knowledge really enhanced my reading experience because I got to discover the characters’ back stories without any prior knowledge.  Initially it was tricky to sort out what exactly was going on, as no two chapters follow the same format and the story jumps around in both time, place and point of view, but after a while it became easier to untangle who was who and what was what.  There was even a chapter written in the second-person perspective which was disorienting, but ultimately, all these twists and oddities suit the story and deeply complement the struggles of the main characters.

As a fan of books featuring themes about mental health and illness, I have to say that this was authentic in its portrayal of the far-reaching effects of mental illness and also beautifully captured the twinned senses of hope and despair that so often accompany those suffering from mental illness in various forms.

When Mystical Creatures Attack! is a beautiful piece of work that is daring in its stylistic audacity and ultimately both poignant and rewarding.  Give it a go if you’re an open-minded reader who doesn’t mind leaping into the literary as-yet unencountered.

Yours in exciting new narrative,

Mad Martha

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

 

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A Graphic Memoir GSQ Review: Tomboy…

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Welcome once again to a Good, Sad and Quirky review.  Today I have a memoir in graphic novel format that relates the tale of one Liz Prince, a girl who struggles to fit into the pre-packaged image of how a girl should look and how a girl should behave.  It’s a fantastically engaging book and one that may well become essential reading for anyone who feels that their biological attributes don’t match with society’s expectations as to how those attributes should be deployed.

tomboy

 

Tomboy is the story of Liz Prince – it chronicles the difficulties and triumphs she experiences from childhood into young adulthood and beyond, in identifying as a “tomboy”.  Liz likes baseball, superheroes and action figures, and feels most comfortable in jeans, a t shirt and her favourite cap.  She’s happy like this.  For her it is not a problem, it just is.  Imagine her surprise then, on discovering that the people around her, from her own siblings, to her classmates, to her teachers and coaches, seem to find this disconcerting in the extreme.  Tomboy covers the bullying that Liz experiences due to her boyish appearance, the difficulties in making and keeping friends that goes hand in hand with being visually different to one’s peers and the emerging problems that Liz encounters when trying to get to know boys in a romantic way while looking like a boy herself.  Tomboy is an important and emininently readable piece of work that speaks clearly to one girl’s struggle to figure out what exactly it is that makes a girl and where she fits on the spectrum of womanhood.

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Wow. Don’t be fooled by the cartoony style of the artwork, this is a book that packs an ideological and personal punch.  Before even a third of the way through the book, Mad Martha was nodding and tearing up, so close to home were the situations and emotions presented here by Liz.  The book follows a a chronological order, opening on a scene in which four-year-old Liz is screaming in an attempt to stop her mother from putting her in a dress.  From there we move on with Liz into her years in primary school and on towards middle and high school, by which point being the only comfortable tomboy in a crowd of pubescent teens becomes quite a challenge indeed.  The book finishes with Liz finding some stable ground as an adult in accepting how she is and how she wants to be and discovering that there is a community in which she can be socially accepted.

The art, as I mentioned, is in the traditional cartoon style and is both easy on the eye and perfect for conveying the humour underlying many of the situations Liz finds herself in.  See for yourself:

There’s plenty in the storyline that is though-provoking and touching and challenging, but there’s also a lot here that will be very familiar to anyone who’s beyond the age of 15, whether they had trouble fitting in with peers or otherwise.  In one sense, Liz is telling the story of any-teen in the struggles she has in making friends and finding her place and her passions, but over the top of that is her specific story of gender-image, which will also strike a chord with many teens, wherever they fall on the spectrum of appearing to be socially-acceptable.

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The only problem I had with this graphic novel is that I felt the pace started to drag a bit during the high school section of the memoir.  By that stage the issues that Liz was struggling with – particularly in terms of finding a romantic partner – had already been raised and the narrative seemed to get bogged down a little at this point.  That’s just my personal interpretation though, and I’m sure others will think differently.

There are also a few instances of swearing and “adult situations”, so if you’re not into that, steer clear.

Otherwise…I got nothing.  I really enjoyed Prince’s style in both artwork and written word.

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Two parts of this memoir really stood out to me as being original, in the sense that I hadn’t encountered them in fiction before.  (I realise that this is technically factual, in that it actually happened, but it’s a subjective retelling and presentation of a particular person, and in that sense, it reads like fiction).  The first was the very clearly outlined difficulties that Liz encounters as a heterosexual female whose personal fashion preference is decidedly masculine.  I haven’t encountered this in any YA before and I think it provided a real sense of depth to the story.  It got me thinking about how personal presentation and sexual preference are linked in our minds…if we see a woman dressed in man’s clothing, do we automatically assume she is a lesbian? If so, why?  How does this affect young people as their identity is emerging in the teen years – do they feel pressure to conform to gender image expectations and how does this affect them psychologically if they do conform or if they don’t?  These are things that I am still pondering and it was wonderful to see these presented realistically for a YA and new adult audience.

The second thing that jumped out in this particular memoir was Liz’s personal dislike (bordering on gut-wrenching hatred) of anything considered to be “girly”.  This was articulated fantastically throughout the memoir, and resolved somewhat in the latter part of the story as Liz begins to separate the idea or image of “girliness” being bad from the idea that being a girl (or a woman) is bad.  This part of the story raises some great questions about attitudes in wider society about females and femininity and the worth that is placed on boys’ activities (and therefore, boys) as opposed to girls’ activities (and therefore, girls).  While I’ve definitely come across these arguments in reading on feminism that I have eagerly devoured in the past, it was refreshing to see it presented in situ, as it were, as it unfolded in Prince’s life and development.

My overall take on the book?

A must-read, must-discuss, must-unpack book for anyone working with young people or anyone who has any interest in gender stereotyping.  And anyone who likes a good graphic memoir, really ;)

I realise I’ve blabbed on a bit here, but this really is one of those rare books that comes along and touches a nerve, inspires important discussions, and makes one cling all the more defiantly to one’s favourite, comfy, non-fashion-forward hat.

Tomboy is due for release on September 28th from Zest Books and I received a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Until next time,

Bruce

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An MG Aussie Maniacal Book Club Review: The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee…

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manical book club button

Welcome once again to the semi-regular meeting of the Maniacal Book Club.  Today we are presenting an award-winning Australian book under its American title and cover, owing to the fact that we requested it thinking it looked very interesting, only to discover it was in fact a book that we’d previously seen and added to the TBR list under its original name.  Without further babbling, I present to you…The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg

 

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Or, as it’s known in Australia, My Life as an Alphabet (also by Barry Jonsberg, obviously)…

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Candice Phee is a twelve year old social outcast who reads the dictionary and Charles Dickens in her spare time and worries about the spiritual life of her pet fish.  Since her baby sister Sky died from SIDS seven years ago, Candice’s parents’ relationship has become rocky and her father has had a major falling out with his brother, Rich Uncle Brian.  When a new boy arrives in Candice’s class claiming to be from another dimension, it appears that Candice is about to make her first friend.  What follows is by turns hilarious, poignant and plain bizarre as Candice and Douglas Benson from Another Dimension attempt to sort out all the problems currently affecting those they care about most.  maniacal book club guru dave

Guru Dave

Whether comparing life to a categorical universe or attempting to reduce one’s life to fit within the confines of the alphabet, it is undeniable that young Candice Phee will discover that human existence often defies the limitations that we place upon it.  It is obvious that those around Candice are suffering in various ways and this delightful story emphasises that caring can come in the most unexpected of packages.  We could all learn from the easy manner with which Candice shucks off the taunts of her classmates and the openness she demonstrates in meeting a new friend. 

This book gives us the lesson that different is not necessarily bad – although sometimes it pays to get some help, depending on how different your differences are and the manner in which you acquired them.  For instance, a difference obtained after falling out of a tree could be a difference that sets one apart as charmingly quirky.  Or it could be a difference that is best addressed by the attentions of a neurological expert.

maniacal book club toothless

Toothless

No dragons in this book. Again.  There’s not any monsters at all actually.   There is a fish with a cool name though (Earth-Pig Fish) and some inflatable bosoms that are really funny (but also turn out to be really important and useful).  I think the book would have been better with monsters, or at least a big dinosaur.  I think Rich Uncle Brian could have bought one and given it to Candice for a present and it would have made the book a lot better.

maniacal book club marthaMad Martha

Today I will honour Candice’s story by writing a slightly awkward, alphabetical poem of sorts.

If Candice’s life were an alphabet, it would probably make more sense if recited backwards. 

If her life were an alphabet, it would probably be a lot less eventful, given that it would need to be condensed

into a form that is easily understood by small children.

Not to mention sung to a jaunty (yet memorable) tune.

If her life were an alphabet, it would probably start with U for unique.

Or maybe C.

For Confused reCollections.

Or maybe, most appropriately, with J.

For Just-an-ordinary-girl-trying-to-make-things-right.

maniacal book club bruce

Bruce

Reading The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee was both a familiar and slightly unusual experience for me.  Told in a series of essays, each beginning with a successive letter of the alphabet, and letters to her (yet-to-respond) American penpal, Candice attempts to give voice to the important things in her life while simultaneously musing about how to make things better for those around her.  This format accounted for much of the “unusual” part of the reading experience, and while I did enjoy the narrative style, the 26-letter chapter headings did seem to make the book a little longer than it probably needed to be.

The familiar bit came mostly from seeing another young protagonist who may (or may not?) be identified as having Asperger’s Syndrome.  While it’s never explicitly stated that this is a label that has been placed on Candice, there are a lot of references to her social difference and her idiosyncratic manner in percieving certain situations.  I’ve read quite a few books with protagonists of this sort and so I quite easily fell into Candice’s narrative voice and turn of phrase.

There are a lot of funny situations in the book that caused me to either grimace in embarrassment or laugh out loud.  Two notable examples are Candice’s well-meaning attempts to address the problem of her favourite teacher’s lazy eye, and her life-saving deployment of a pair of inflatable fake breasts that Candice receives as a birthday gift from her only friend, Douglas Benson from Another Dimension.  Possibly my favourite bits of the story were Candice’s letters to her American penpal, who has not yet responded to Candice’s epistles – upon reading them, it is not hard to see why.

This, actually, reminds me of a good point to note – as a book from an Australian author, this book has a distinctly Australian sense of humour.  It’s dry and understated, and seems to fit quite well with a character like Candice who can be particluarly blunt in delicate social situations.  On the other hand, it also deals in a reasonably matter-of-fact way with a number of difficult issues, such as SIDs, cancer, difficult parental relationships, depression, and family conflict.

Although there were a lot of things I liked about the book, the overall impression I have is that it was just an okay reading experience.  The book never really drew me in to the point that I felt that I had to rush back to it and it wouldn’t be one that I would rave about to others.

However, it would be a good pick for those looking for an Australian book with a protagonist who is (possibly) on the Autistic Spectrum or a book about fitting in and dealing with family problems generally.  I’d also recommend it for those looking for something that’s reasonably light, funny and a bit quirky and different.

Overall, we give The Categorical Life of Candice Phee three (out of a possible four) thumbs up.  Toothless just never really got into it, but the rest of us liked it just fine.

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The Maniacal Book Club received a digital copy of this title for review from the publisher via Edelweiss.

 

Until next time,

Bruce

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