A YA Indie Double Dip: The Power of One (Group of Like-minded Folk)…

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Welcome to another Double-Dip review, in which we select a few books of note and thrust them forcefully into the condiment of revieweriness.  Today I have two indie YA titles for you – one dealing with attacks on a united group from supernatural forces and the other dealing with a horrifying attack on two family groups and how they deal with the aftermath.  Let’s get dipping!

When Tyler and Chris find a half-drowned girl in their fishing nets, they know it’s going to be a strange morning.  The girl, Reese, while recovering in Chris’s fishing shack is able to summon a sword from thin air to destroy a demonic bat that flies through the window to attack her and that’s when the boys know – Reese is part of the Oneness.  Mysterious and deeply empathic, the Oneness is a group of individuals who are all connected to the Spirit, and have the ability and responsibility to defend ordinary humans from attacks from demonic forces.  But Reese claims to be an exile from the Oneness and this causes her untold grief.  Uncertain what to do, Tyler and Chris consult Chris’s mother Diane, who in turn calls in the local Oneness cell.  It’s apparent to all that there is something odd going on with Reese and when another member of the local cell goes missing, it is up to Tyler and Chris to jump into the fray and help the Oneness to find the source of the danger.  But while the Oneness possess all manner of paranormal abilities that give them the edge on the humans, this time the danger may be emanating from within.

exile the oneness cycleDip into it for…

…an action-packed paranormal romp that also features elements of spirituality and mystery.  This book was pitched as a “Christian paranormal fantasy” novel, but while there are undoubtedly elements that could be interpreted from a Christian context, they certainly needn’t be in order to understand the story. Those looking for the Christian flavour will certainly find it, but there is no explicit mention of Christian religion in the text, so those just hoping to enjoy a paranormal action-adventure shouldn’t be put off by any fear of overt spiritual preachiness or anything of that nature.

The plot rolls along quickly and while I struggled a little in the beginning pinning down some of the paranormal elements (as indeed, did some of the characters), the whole concept of the Oneness and how it works is explained well over the course of the book.  The characters are reasonably well-developed, with identifiable flaws, and as we discover more about the back stories of certain individuals we are given hints as to how the mystery might play out, before an action-filled climax.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like characters spending fair amounts of time engaged in various methods of soul-searching.  There’s quite a bit of introspection going on throughout the plot as some characters try to figure out who they are (or who they are meant to be)  and others attempt to atone for past mistakes.  If you’re not into that, I can imagine that certain parts of the story could end up quite irritating for you.

Overall Dip Factor:

I was happily engaged with this tale after the learning curve of the first few chapters and I appreciated the balance that the author has achieved between character development and relationships between characters, and demon-slaying, sword-swinging action.  There’s also a mystery to solve involving Reese and her original cell that adds a nice bit of intrigue and depth to the last few chapters of the book.  The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger, but as the other four books in the cycle have already been released, those who get sucked in to the story will be able to satisfy their curiosity without a long wait.  I’d certainly recommend this to lovers of YA paranormal who are looking for something a bit out of the ordinary in the genre.

Now onto The Singing Sand Story by Aussie indie author David Chattaway.  The edition I received is an anthology of the two parts of the story, Singing Sand and Quietus.

Jamal has finally found a safe home with the Nelson family after a traumatic incident did for both his parents. While on a family camping holiday with the Nelson family and their friends the Thompsons, Mary, the Nelson’s eldest daughter, is brutally attacked by two men. As Jamal and Michael, one of the Thompsons, attempt to get Mary to safety, the boys come across the men who attacked Mary and give chase. As events spiral out of control with deadly consequences, the families must band together and make life-changing decisions in an instant in order to stay alive.  

In Quietus, as the families recover from the traumatic events of their camping trip, Jamal’s past unexpectedly catches up with him. With his family plunged into danger once again, Jamal struggles to understand why this stranger is threatening his life. As the reasons become clear, Jamal must once again decide how far he is prepared to go to protect those he loves.

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Dip into it for…

…a fast-paced drama that plunges its characters into an unimaginable situation – twice. There’s some real thriller material in these two short novels as two families are essentially taken hostage and threatened for reasons that are not immediately clear. The relationships between the characters are well-developed, although much of Jamal’s back story is a mystery even to him, and the plot unfolds like a chain of dominoes, with one decision affecting the next until the characters are between a rock and a hard place, having to make decisions that no reasonable person would want to face.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of real-life (as opposed to fantasy) violence in young adult books. These two stories have quite a bit of violence, and particularly, in the first book, violence against a young girl. If that’s not something you are prepared to encounter in your reading, you should best move swiftly on.

Overall Dip Factor:

This is another unexpected and original contribution to the YA genre. It may just be that I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction that features scary, real-life situations, but I suspect that there isn’t a great deal of it out there and so The Singing Sand Story is definitely worth a look. Apart from the action in the plot, there is also plenty of food for thought regarding how young people in traumatic situations go about healing and recovering from such events, and how difficult decisions can impact on identity. I’d recommend this one to YA lovers who are looking for something more gritty and realistic in their contemporary fiction.

So it’s been a week of indie contributions so far and I hope I’ve inspired you to step away from the big publishers once in a while to check out the little guys.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Adult Fiction Reading Round-Up: Indie Edition…

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Welcome once again book-herds to my Reading Round-Up! This is where I briefly display a number of books that have caught my attention recently, but that don’t quite warrant an individual blog post.  Today’s edition is focused on indie titles that have graced my inbox and Kindle in the last month or two.  It’s a mixed bunch – some I really got stuck into and some that I didn’t relate to quite so much.  So saddle up and let’s ride amongst the wild, indie tomes of the internet plains!

Cracking Grace (Stephen Stromp)

Two-Sentence Synopsis:cracking grace

Sentient cemetery statues, a ghost and a bluebird muse on the meaning of life to while away the endless hours of statue-related boredom.  Meanwhile, young Audrey must deal with her father’s descent into madness brought on by his grief at losing Audrey’s mother.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s original, it’s different and it features gargoyles.  Stromp has deftly mixed humour with depressing reality here and has also managed to squeeze in some deep philosophical musings without being didactic.  Also, it was mildly gratifying to follow Audrey’s father and be able to think, “Well at least I’m not as crazy as that guy!”

Brand it with:

Magical realism, talking statuary, the meaning of life, precocious youngsters, lunacy

See my Goodreads review here!

 

shortsShorts: Stories about Alcohol, Asperger Syndrome and God (Tessie Regan)

Two-Sentence Synopsis:

A young woman with Asperger Syndrome recounts funny and philosophical stories about her struggles with alcohol and her relationship with God.  Her stories are told in a combination of poetry and prose.

Muster up the motivation because:

Regan has a really engaging writing style and a very non-literal turn-of-phrase considering her Aspergers.  Many of the stories contain laugh-out-loud elements.  Those with a particular interest in reading about the Christian testimony of someone developing their relationship with God should enjoy the large amounts of God-related material in Regan’s writing.

Brand it with:

Humour, short stories, autobiography, Christian spirituality

See my Goodreads review here!

Island Fog (John Vanderslice)Island Fog

Two-Sentence Synopsis:

A whole bunch of ordinary people have lived on Nantucket for hundreds of years.  These are a few of their (unexpectedly intriguing, mysterious, fantastical) stories.

Muster up the motivation because:

Each of the stories in this collection feels like a novel in itself, so for that reason, this is a collection that makes a good return on your investment.  There is something for most people in here, as the stories span almost every aspect of the experience of being human and as a bonus, each story features a different historical period from the 1800s to today (or thereabouts).  Those who enjoy engaging fiction of a historical or contemporary nature that features a twinge of the mysterious, ethereal or slightly unsettling will find something to get lost in, in this collection.

Brand it with:

Historical fiction, contemporary fiction, short stories, Nantucket, unexpectedly unsettling

See my Goodreads review here!

 

 

gifts for theoneGifts For the One Who Comes After (Helen Marshall)

Two-Sentence Synopsis:

A collection of strangely unsettling tales of the unexpected.  The dead scaly kitten-thing on the cover gives a good indication of the tone of the stories.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you are into close encounters of the weird and creepy kind, then this book will satisfy your cravings (you weirdo!).  The stories all feature an element of darkness and at least one fantastic, paranormal or violent theme.  This is also quite an extensive volume, with plenty of stories to dip into at leisure.

Brand it with:

The new weird, unsettling, mildy horrifying, Murphy’s Law, short stories

See my Goodreads review here!

 

 

Zeus is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure (Michael G. Munz)

Two-Sentence Synopsis:zeus is dead

After the mysterious death of Zeus, the way is opened for the Ancient Greek pantheon to take over the world once again.  Unfortunately for the humans, this vintage group of deities bring with them a whole bunch of monsters and egotism.

Muster up the motivation because:

This book is in the same kind of vein as Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest, which I reviewed not too long ago, except it’s aimed at an adult audience.  It’s funny, it’s about forgotten gods and goddesses and their hangers-on and it’s got deadly flying kittens.  Really, what more could you want in one book?

Brand it with:

Humour, gods and goddesses, airborne death-kitties, reality tv, action/adventure

See my Goodreads review here!

So there you are – indie titles all and surely there’s something there to whet your appetite.  If you’re in an indie, rebellious sort of a mood I’ll have an indie Double Dip for you on Wednesday catering to those who like YA.  In the meantime, what titles have you been rounding up recently?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

An Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: Heraclix and Pomp…

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Welcome to a Read-it-if for grown ups who like swords, sorcery, fairies, monsters and general villainy and  mystery.  I received a copy of Heraclix and Pomp by Forrest Aguirre from the publisher via Edelweiss after being intrigued by a tantalising blurb which promised monsters and fairies acting in cahoots.

Heraclix is a reincarnated creature patched together from random body parts.  Pomp is a fairy who is facing certain disembowelment at the hands of villainous sorcerer.  From this happy beginning springs a friendship that is destined to cross the borders of life itself.  After escaping with only their lives from the aforementioned villainous sorcerer, Heraclix and Pomp set out across a land rife with conflict to discover who and what they are.  Pursued by various groups and individuals that seem to want them dead (or at least imprisoned), Heraclix and Pomp befriend a warlord-turned-healer, inveigle themselves into a secret society and even make a depressing jaunt into Hell before getting to the crux of the matter and facing off against the sorcerer at whose ill-advised dabbling this story began.

Heraclix and Pomp

Read it if:

* you believe monsterism is as monsterism does

* you are firmly convinced that spending too much time hanging around in front of the mirror can be hazardous to one’s health (and soul)

* you are of the unwavering belief that tattoos can be redemptive

* you have learned, by experience or otherwise, when being pursued by a mob with torches and pitchforks, it is best to run first and gauge the general mood later

When deciding to pick this book up, I was drawn to the heady atmosphere of oddity that seemed to emanate from the descriptions of the main characters.  A patchwork man of monstrous countenance and open heart? Wonderful.  A cheeky fairy learning to exist in the mortal world? Sure, bring it on.  All the other stuff would sort itself out, I thought, if I could just read a story with these interesting characters leading the way.  And for the most part, thoughtful, purpose-driven Heraclix and well-meaning, curious Pomp were enough to keep me engaged in this complex world.

I must admit that I was utterly astounded when I saw that the print version of this book has only 280 pages, because reading it on the Kindle had me thinking I was wading through a 500 page epic.  Aguirre has packed a lot of action into this tale and it certainly felt to me to be a hefty read, and not one that I would pick up for a bit of light diversion.  It’s more a tale that needs a committed reader, because the magical elements dip in and out and interweave themselves with real places, and if you’re not paying attention, it would be easy to lose the thread of the whos and whats and wheres of our intrepid pair.  I found that after the eventful and enlightening trip to Hell that the pair undertake (about two thirds of the way through) I began to lose the thread of the story just a little, and never quite regained it to my satisfaction.  I could fully grasp the events of the final third of the plot, but I suspected I was missing some important nuances.

Overall, this is a story that features a very strong sense of place and culture: as Heraclix and Pomp traverse Europe, the places that they visit seem to have their own life and exert an influence over the pairs’ decisions.  If you are very familiar with the lore of various old cities in Europe, you’ll probably appreciate this far more than I did, as my vague knowledge about the magical history of Prague (for instance) didn’t really cut it in terms of understanding the nuance of the story.  As it was, I simply appreciated the changes in atmosphere as Heraclix and Pomp moved about the place.

What I did find refreshing and fun and brain-building was the need to use the Kindle’s dictionary feature reasonably often during my reading, thanks to Aguirre’s vocabulary-expanding text.  I quite enjoyed hovering over a certain word or phrase (just to double-check its meaning, you understand!)  as I don’t often run across a book containing hitherto unforeseen (or rarely seen) words.  Some of the crackers I picked up included fumarole, janissary, senescence, celerity and concrescence.   Go on, look them up. Of course, on having embraced the use of this feature on the Kindle, I am now continually frustrated that I can’t do the same in printed books.  Ah well.

If you like a bit of magic, philosophy and sword-thwackery presented in a well-executed package, Heraclix and Pomp could be the book for you.  While it’s not for the fainthearted, it will definitely draw you in and have you pondering what it means to be human, and how redemption can be earned.

Until next time,

Bruce

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An Adult Fiction Haiku Review: Nyctophobia…

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Welcome, seekers of the light, to a spooky haiku review with me, your host, Mad Martha.  Today’s book focuses on a fear common to fleshlings and sock-creatures alike: the fear of the dark.  Light your candle/gas lamp/super-powered LED torch and let’s creep quietly down the darkened corridors of Nyctophobia by Christopher Fowler.

Callie hasn’t had the easiest of journeys so far in life, but since marrying older, dark, handsome Spaniard Matteo, things have been looking up.  Giving up work as an architect, Callie moves with Matteo to Spain and is immediately drawn to the remote and mysterious Hyperion House, with its strange architectural style that keeps the majority of the house in direct sunlight for the greatest part of the day.  After moving in, Callie begins to research the history of the house in an attempt to discover the reasons behind some its more bizarre features; apart from the lack of shadows in the main living area, the back of the house appears to be built into a cliff, rendering it into almost total darkness, and the servants quarters seem to be built as an exact replica of the main house, but at a third of their size.  As Callie digs deeper into the house’s secrets she becomes convinced that there are “others” living in the locked, dark servants’ quarters – others that wish to do her family harm.  As Matteo is increasingly absent due to work and Callie has no one to turn to but his nine-year-old daughter Bobbie, things become very confusing for Callie very quickly.  But perhaps some secrets are best left buried: for if we do not heed the lessons of history, we may be doomed to repeat them.

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Noises in the walls

are the least of her worries

What price, happiness?

This is not your typical gory, deaths-aplenty horror story (although there are a few deaths here).  Nor is it your run-of-the-mill ghosts in the attic story (although there are indeed ghosts inhabiting various rooms also).  Nyctophobia is instead a psychological, mess-with-your-head, things aren’t what they seem (or are they?) type horror story, and as such, Christopher Fowler has done a very thorough job at creating an atmosphere of confusion and secrecy throughout the book.

If you enjoy haunted house stories, you’ll probably enjoy this.  While defining it as a “haunted house” story is a major simplification – this is a complex book that layers traditional motifs with Spanish history, familial history and episodes of mental illness – it is Hyperion House itself that is the star of the tale here.  I love the idea of a house built specifically to cater to those who are afraid of the dark – for in this story, the original builder of the house designed it with his nyctophobic wife in mind, to ensure that not one shadow penetrated the facade.  The bizarre architectural quirks add interest to the tale and provide Callie (and the reader) with hours of fun as she tries to figure out why they were built and why they are kept perpetually locked and in darkness.

The story has a well-thought out twist in the end that I didn’t see coming.  I won’t give you any clues as to what it might be, but it really threw everything that had happened before into a new light (pun intended!) and had me re-thinking earlier parts of the story.  The twist was nicely handled in that it was revealed matter-of-factly and the realisation of the implications of the twist were allowed to slowly percolate through Callie’s head (and the readers’!) before a slightly ambiguous ending.

The one problem I had with this book is that it felt to me like a hefty, dense read.  It’s only 320 pages, but it seemed to take a long time to really get into the meat of the “horror” elements – in fact, Callie’s first really frightening encounter with the suspected “others” doesn’t take place until chapter twenty-two, and for some people I suspect that’s going to be too long a wait.  If you are in the market for a ghostly, psychological thriller that takes a few Spanish siestas here and there, Nyctophobia could well be the book for you.

Until we meet again, may your torch batteries be ever inserted the right way round,

Mad Martha

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

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Spooktacular Giveaway Hop! Win (Mildly) Scary Stuff!

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Welcome to my stop on the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop! The hop is running from October 15th to 31st and is hosted by I Am a Reader!  Don’t forget to hop around the other 200+ blogs participating in the event, and try your hand at winning all sorts of spooky stuff.

I have decided to provide some spooky options for readers of all ages for this hop.  My giveaway is open internationally, provided the Book Depository ships to your country for free.  One winner will be able to choose ONE of the books below as their prize.  Click on the book cover to find out more about the book!

For the little horror buff:

sherlock holmes little primer

For the middle grade scare-fiend (one of my personal favourites):

uncle montague

And for the grown-up terror:

screaming staircase

Although, if the winner has already read/bought the first in the series of Tales of Terror, OR Lockwood and Co, I will be happy to substitute the second in the series if the winner so chooses.

To enter, click on this link:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck! And now here’s the list of other participating blogs – hop on my friends, and good fortune…

Powered by Linky Tools

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

Until next time,

Bruce

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A Poetical Read-it-If Review: Rhyme Schemer…

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Are you the kind of reader that loves it when an author tries something a little bit different…and NAILS it? Me too.  Happily, today’s offering is from an author that does just that.  Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt is a verse novel for a middle grade audience, so I suspected when I requested it for review that I would probably enjoy it.  What did surprise me was the way that Holt has managed to create a clever, funny and sensitive novel that hits all the right notes and authentically portrays the troubles and triumphs of a young lad who is considered to be a bit of a ne’er-do-well.  So, in fact, I ended up loving it. Hurrah!

If you were to describe Kevin as a class bully, you would not be too far off the mark.  Kevin has a reputation for being the kind of guy who might hide all your pencils.  And then politely inform you that your pencils are missing.  And then laugh at you.  Kevin also has four older brothers and two parents who don’t have a lot of time for him.  Kevin also has a particular skill in manipulating pages in classic children’s stories and posting them around the school.  But when a classmate discovers Kevin’s love of poetry, he suddenly realises how much of an impact words can have on other people.  Is it too late for Kevin to redeem himself? Or is he going to be stuck as the villain of the story forever?

rhyme schemerRead it if:

*you’ve ever thought that many classic children’s books could do with a cheeky, handwritten makeover

*you’ve ever felt like the smallest fish in a very large pond…comprised mostly of annoying brother fish

*you’ve ever had a secret passion for something that might be considered a bit embarrassing were it to be revealed in public

*you’re looking for a book with an authentic male protagonist that features poetry in a clever and very engaging way

As someone who enjoys the odd bit of poetry (and a bit of odd poetry) this book could not have been more perfect.  It is a super-quick read – I think I read it in two sittings, but could easily have managed it in one – and has a storyline that had me glued to the pages.  The book opens with Kevin revealing that he is the mastermind behind a spate of guerilla-poetry attacks, in which pages torn from classic children’s books have been manipulated with pencil to create funny new poems and stuck up around his school.  If you can’t imagine what I mean, here’s a handy illustration from the book to demonstrate:

 

rhyme schemer illustration example

 

Kevin is a self-proclaimed bully who seems to take great delight in humiliating others, but as we move deeper into Kevin’s journal, we quickly discover that he has family problems that may account, in some part, for his less-than-kind behaviour towards his classmates.  It’s really hard to dislike Kevin though, as his voice is at once self-promoting and self-deprecating – he knows that his behaviour is not winning him friends, but he also seems to know that he has a gift that might open up some opportunities for him if he can keep out of trouble.

This is an ingenious new take on the moving-into-the-teenage-years style of story that will most definitely appeal to kids in the target age group because of the style of humour and excellent characterisation.  I suspect this will also appeal to those with a subversive streak (including, but not limited to, reluctant readers and those who like to deface library books), and those who are just looking for a familiar story of friendship and personal growth told in a fun, accessible fashion.

Actually, writing this review has done two things: it’s encouraged me to pick up That Shakespeare Kid, another verse novel that’s been sitting on my TBR pile for at least six months, and it’s also reminded me to put Rhyme Schemer on my Christmas list. Because now I wish to own it in print, not least because it features the funniest collections on the subject of the school principal’s tie ever written.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Fairy Tale Makeovers: A Bean, A Stalk and A Boy Named Jack…

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My fairy tale makeovers review series has been lagging a bit of late, so I am happy to present you with a fun little makeover of Jack and the Beanstalk for the early years crowd.  I gratefully received a copy A Bean, A Stalk and a Boy Named Jack by William Joyce and the alliteratively named Kenny Callicut, from the publisher, Simon and Schuster, and was immediately drawn to the gorgeous colours and sweeping vistas of the illustrations.  There’s also an extremely underwhelmed Brahman bull that pops up here and there that had us all giggling from the get-go, so watch out for him!

a bean a stalk and a boy named jack

When drought hits the land, all the King’s subjects must line up to do their bit – their bit specifically being producing tears in order to provide water to wash the King’s stinky pinky toe.  After some slight interference from the King’s daughter and the Royal Wizard, a smallish boy and a smallish bean join forces to solve the problem of the stinky pinky, and return equilibrium to the kingdom.  When Jack (the smallish boy) plants Bean (the smallish bean), an oversized stalk erupts and delivers the unlikely pair to the crux of the problem – a (smallish) giant kid having a giant bath!  With a bit of friendly conversation and due consideration, the water problem is rectified and the King’s pinky becomes unstinky.  Cue bathing! Cue rejoicing! Cue…another fairy tale?!

**For some odd reason – it could be something to do with the writing – but I imagined this whole tale beginning to end read in a Brooklyn-ish accent.  It seemed to fit perfectly and really added to the experience for me, but you know, it’s just a suggestion. **

At 58 pages, A Bean, A Stalk and a Boy Named Jack, is a slightly longer than average picture book, but the engaging and colourful illustrations, many of them covering double page spreads, just suck you straight into the adventure.  The tale is narrated in a fun, laid-back tone, and while there’s no rhyme, there are plenty of repeated phrases for the young’uns to join in with.  The text is laid out in a combination of clear black type and colourful speech bubbles and this mixes things up and provides a bit of interest.

Jack is immediately likeable and Bean is possibly the cutest vegetable ever to grace the page and the remaining members of the  ensemble cast just seem to want to solve the stinky pinky problem and return the status quo.  There’s not a lot of wild adventure here – more of a meeting of like minds – but it’s definitely worth a look simply to appreciate the eye-catching art and gentle humour gracing the pages.  I especially liked the cheeky twist at the end of the tale which leads into another fairy tale (Jack, of course, being a common name in fairy tale circles), but I won’t spoil it for you.

If you are looking for a fun, relaxed twist on the Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum that exchanges bone-grinding for hygienic bathing practices and water conservation, then this is the fairy tale makeover for you!  I must admit, paging through it again has sucked me straight back into the beautiful illustrations, so I’m going to sign off now and spend a few more moments giving my eyeballs a visual treat.  Don’t mind me.

*clears throat in preparation for Brooklynish accent*

A Bean, A Stalk and A Boy Named Jack was released on October 1st.

Until next time,

Bruce

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