TBR Friday…and an Fi50 Reminder!

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

It’s that time of the month again – Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday!  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

aged to perfection

Be there or be square!

TBR Friday

It’s back to YA for my TBR Friday effort this month, with A Bad Day For Voodoo by Jeff Strand.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When your best friend is just a tiny bit psychotic, you should never actually believe him when he says, “Trust me. This is gonna be awesome.”

Of course, you probably wouldn’t believe a voodoo doll could work either. Or that it could cause someone’s leg to blow clean off with one quick prick. But I’ve seen it. It can happen.

And when there’s suddenly a doll of YOU floating around out there—a doll that could be snatched by a Rottweiler and torn to shreds, or a gang of thugs ready to torch it, or any random family of cannibals (really, do you need the danger here spelled out for you?)—well, you know that’s just gonna be a really bad day …

bad day for voodoo

Ten Second Synopsis:

After receiving an unfair failing grade in a test, Tyler’s well-meaning but slightly deranged best friend obtains a voodoo doll of the teacher in question.  After a completely innocent poke that causes the teacher’s leg to fly off in a spectacular display of bloody cinema, Adam experiences an episode of paranoia in which he obtains a voodoo doll of Tyler, and the shenanigans begin in earnest.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

I’m not entirely certain – It was published in 2012, but probably made it on to the shelf sometime in 2013 or 2014…or 2015.

Acquired:

Received as a birthday gift

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

I really, really wanted to read it for ages and so relegated it to the shelf.  As you do.

Best Bits:

  • There were a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments in this one, particularly during the “teacher’s leg flying off” scene.  The writing is casual and full of banter and this is obviously meant to be a funny book, rather than a book with any serious subplots, so it was a fun, light interlude.
  • Tyler is a protagonist one can relate to, who, through no fault of his own, finds himself in a series of unlikely, but amusing, life-or-death situations
  • The voodoo sellers are pretty funny characters who almost steal the show.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • The banter-y style started to get old for me about halfway through the book.  By the last quarter I just wanted the author to get on with the story, as things become a race against time, but the obligatory banter kept up until the end, which I felt slowed the pace a little.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Considering it wasn’t my money that paid for it, yes.

Where to now for this tome?

I will probably pass it on to someone who will enjoy it.

This is another chink off the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block.

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

Yarning with Mad Martha: My First Knitting Book…

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yarning with mad martha_Fotor (2)

A hearty hello to you all!  Today I’m breaking new ground and taking on the world of knitting (eep!) with My First Knitting Book Easy to Follow Instructions and More Than 15 Projects by Hildegarde Duezo and translated by Marina Orry.  I requested the book from the publisher via Netgalley, working under the assumption that if I were to take up knitting using a book, working from a book aimed at children should be the best place to start.  Surely the instructions therein would be far easier to follow than those in a book aimed at adults?  Well, just wait and see!  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

If you want to learn to knit, you only need a ball of yarn, knitting needles, some patience — and this book! It’s the ideal introduction to knitting, with easy-to-follow, full-color instructions for more than fifteen projects. Clear, step-by-step explanations of basic techniques make this guide great for beginners of all ages, especially those wishing to create handmade gifts.

An introduction explains the how-to of knitting, from holding the needles and yarn to casting on, basic stitches, and finishing touches. Patterns start out as simple as can be and gradually become more challenging, although by no means difficult. Readers can advance from bracelets, hair ornaments, and pocketbooks to scarves and hats, in addition to a charming variety of household decorations.

my first knitting book

Although the blurb mentions that “some patience” is needed, I would have to say, after having a crack at this book, that “infinite patience” is needed to get started when learning to knit from scratch.  My early frustrations may have had something to do with the fact that I expected (completely reasonably, I might add) to master the basic stitches in about ten minutes and be moving on to completing the projects.  Needless to say, this didn’t quite pan out as I had planned.

Beginning at the beginning (which, according to Julie Andrews, is a very good place to start) I followed the pictures and brief, step-by-step instructions and attempted to cast on.  After about twenty minutes, countless re-starts, a temper boiling over and my brain repeating on loop “this would be so much easier if there were a HOOK on the end of these needles”, I managed to cast on about thirty stitches, thusly:

knit cast on

Being about ready to throw in the towel at this point, and covered in sweat from my brow, I summoned every ounce of fortitude I possess and pressed on to the basic knit stitch.  I didn’t find this quite so difficult as casting on (although thoughts of “why on earth are these loonies using two straight sticks when they could have put a HOOK on the end?!” persisted), and eventually got up a bit of a rhythm.  I did drop a few stitches here and there while attempting to slip the stitch off the end of the needles, but soldiered on because the book gave no indication of what to do in such a situation and I had no clue how to fix it.   Having completed a row of knit stitch, I moved on to purl stitch, which didn’t seem quite so difficult after the trials of casting on and knit stitch, leaving me with this epic piece of needlework:

knit finished rows

You can see from the unevenness of the rows that something has clearly gone a bit wrong here, and at this point I thought the book could have done with a “troubleshooting” section.  As completing these three rows took me just over an hour, my interest in learning to knit diminished quickly, and I wondered how likely it would be for a young person to want to keep going at this point if they didn’t have a helpful, knit-knowledgeable adult around to assist and motivate.

The book provides instruction in a number of other stitches, as well as important things like increasing and decreasing, casting off and seaming pieces together.  The instructions are accompanied by colour illustrations, but I couldn’t help thinking that actual photographs might have been more helpful, either as a replacement for the illustrations or used alongside them.  I have found, when working crochet patterns from blog tutorials, that seeing actual photos of the work in progress is remarkably helpful.

The projects seem basic enough – there is a cute little coin purse, a keyring, some egg-cosies and keen-looking bracelets, amongst others – but again, if you are starting from scratch, gaining enough practice in the basics in order to start working on a project seems like a long path to walk.

I have put aside my desire to learn to knit for the moment after reading this book, given that I can achieve the same, or better, results more quickly with crochet and Tunisian crochet techniques in everything except for socks.  If I were to pick this book up again to continue my brief knitting journey, I would make sure it was supported by a helpful, knowledgeable fleshling to assist with troubleshooting, or failing that, a whole slew of Youtube videos.

But enough about me – what about you?  Have you ever tried to pick up a skill like this from a book? How did you fare?

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

Picture Book Perusal: What Happened to Daddy’s Body?

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picture book perusal button

No, today’s book is not some kind of shock reflection on how Daddy has let himself go since his glory days.  Neither is it a jolly, “Weekend at Bernie’s” type romp.  It is, in fact, a pretty darn solid attempt at providing a bit of information, at an age-appropriate level, on what happens to you humans after you die.  In a biological, physiological sense, that is.  What Happened to Daddy’s Body? by Elke and Alex Barber is actually of surprisingly high quality given the fraught content.  We received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley, drawn in, of course, by that appalling yet intriguing title.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

My daddy died when I was (one…two…) three years old. Today we are out in the garden. It always makes me think about my daddy because he LOVED his garden. Sometimes, I wonder what happened to my daddy’s body…

This picture book aims to help children aged 3+ to understand what happens to the body after someone has died. Through telling the true story of what happened to his daddy’s body, we follow Alex as he learns about cremation, burial and spreading ashes. Full of questions written in Alex’s own words, and with the gentle, sensitive and honest answers of his mother, this story will reassure any young child who might be confused about death and what happens afterwards. It also reiterates the message that when you have experienced the loss of a loved one, it is okay to be sad, but it is okay to be happy, too.

what happened to daddys body

If you’ve ever come across (or birthed) a child who is inquisitive about topics around which there are a dearth of helpful information books, then today is your lucky day.  This is the first picture book I have ever come across that details the various (Western) burial practices in child-appropriate context, but I can safely say I reckon it’s probably the best.  Far from being a morbid, creepy investigation into decomposition, the book sensitively addresses the perfectly natural question of what happens to the body of that person that we loved and has now disappeared from sight through death.

The water-colour-style illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and really add a sense of warmth and growth to the proceedings, with a subtle subtext of nature appearing in many of the images.  The text itself is quite conversational, as mother and children chat back and forth about their memories of the father’s funeral and what went on.  As well as explicitly discussing things like cremation and burial, the book also touches on the grieving process and how each person involved can be made comfortable by having a share in discussions about creating memories and milestones.

I got the feeling while reading this that it might actually make a far more useful teaching tool if presented just as a general reading book, rather than a specifically grief-linked reader.  There is plenty of information in here that is interesting, thought-provoking and just pretty useful to know, whether or not a child has had a recent experience of grief.  It would certainly make a unique addition to any classroom unit focusing on natural processes, or diverse family contexts.

Overall, I am heartily impressed with this picture book, although a title change might be an idea, if only to stop people from silently asking “WTF?” on first coming across it.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Giveaway! Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas

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It’s giveaway time!  I received a copy of Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas from Walker Books Australia for review.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t my cup of tea – more about that in a minute – so it’s time to send it on to a more loving home.  To enter the giveaway, which is open internationally (hooray!), scroll down a bit.  But if you actually want to know something about the book you are hoping to win, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It was just another ordinary day at McKinley High—until a massive explosion devastated the school. When loner David Thorpe tried to help his English teacher to safety, the teacher convulsed and died right in front of him. And that was just the beginning.

A year later, McKinley has descended into chaos. All the students are infected with a virus that makes them deadly to adults. The school is under military quarantine. The teachers are gone. Violent gangs have formed based on high school social cliques. Without a gang, you’re as good as dead. And David has no gang. It’s just him and his little brother, Will, against the whole school.

quarantine

I had high hopes for this one but unfortunately I gave up after about four chapters and 45ish pages.  I had three main problems with what I read.  The first of these is that the narrative style focused far more on telling than showing, and so I didn’t feel drawn in to the story.

The second is that the major plot point of the book – that the kids have somehow contracted a virus that is deadly to adults – is just sort of plonked into the text.  There is no indication of how this happened or why or anything.  Admittedly, this could be explained after page 45 and I would be none the wiser, but essentially what I’m saying is that there was not enough believable world-building in the early stages for me to want to stick with it.

**For examples of parts of the story that stopped me from suspending my disbelief, see the below paragraphs.  If you take my word for it, feel free to skip the below paragraphs**

Examples of this include the fact that the army has cordoned off the school within minutes of the first teacher’s death – why (and how??) could they do this unless they were involved? (I don’t know if they’re involved because I finished at page 45, but this was the only logical reason I could think of for the army to be there so quick.)

Another example is the fact that the teacher who dies in front of David (the main character) takes time out from vomiting up his internal organs to warn David to “stay back!”.  Why? If I was literally spewing my guts up, I’d want the nearest person to help me, not stay back.  Did the teacher know that David was causing his death, and if so, how did he know?

Finally, there is a scene in which the boys carry the corpse of the aforementioned dead teacher to a sort of makeshift burial ground (actually, a collection of lockers).  This scene is noted as being two weeks after the death of the teacher.  At no point are maggots mentioned.  I would have expected (and the most cursory of glances at the first webpage about corpse decomposition I came across confirms this) that the body, at two weeks after death, would be crawling with maggots and doused in more than a little seepage of bodily fluid.  Yet this is not mentioned.  Further to this, the teacher-burial-locker thing seems quite an organised operation, but no mention is made of who organised it, how everyone agreed to it etc, etc….

**Okay, examples over.  Normal service now resumes**

The straw that broke the gargoyle’s back however, was a mention on pages 44 and 45 that was particularly telling to me regarding how women were going to be portrayed in this book.

Picture it: A month after hundreds of teenagers are left to their own devices in a locked school, with food only provided through occasional airdrops, the main characters burst into a girl’s toilet while on the run from an angry mob.  This is mere pages after a boy is stabbed through the throat with a piece of wood.  Guess what the girls in the bathroom are doing.

Go on, guess.

Dying their hair with a packet of Kool-Aid.

I effing kid you not.

So, the authors expect us to believe that in a life-or-death situation, wherein food is scarce and, as has just been demonstrated, people will literally KILL to get it, these young ladies are not only misusing a foodstuff that could be used to boost their daily calorie intake, but are also seemingly more worried about their looks than, oh, I don’t know, being locked up with hundreds of hormonal, angry, mob-based teen boys where the risk of rape or violent attack would be astronomical.

And so I stopped reading.  Because if the lacklustre narrative style and lack of basic research weren’t bad enough, there was no way I was going to sit through a book in which young women are portrayed as looks-obsessed halfwits even as the world collapses around them.

Having said that, the book is getting a majority of four and five star reviews on Goodreads, so what the hell do I know?  Hence, the giveaway!

If you would like to be the forever home of Quarantine: The Loners (kindly provided by Walker Books Australia), just click on the rafflecopter link below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

An MG Double-Dip: Bubbles and Boy Bands…

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It’s middle grade Double-Dip time again!  I just love getting stuck into the middle grade titles – my TBR shelf comprises about 75% middle grade titles and it’s a reading age-bracket that we just can’t get enough of.  Today we have a boy in a bubble and a girl competing with a boy band.  Grab your snack and dive in!

First up we have Girl vs. Boy Band: The Right Track by Harmony Jones, the opener of a new series aimed at tween girls who aren’t quite ready for YA contemporary titles but are craving a bit of innocent romantic interaction.  We received this one from Bloomsbury for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Talented but painfully shy eighth-grader Lark secretly writes feisty, heartfelt songs about her life-about school, crushes on boys, not getting along with her mom, and missing her dad who lives in Nashville. But that secret becomes harder to keep when Lark’s mother, a music record executive at her own label, announces that British boy band Abbey Road will be coming to live with them while they make their first album!

Sharing her L.A. house with three noisy, mischievous rising stars isn’t as glamorous as expected, especially when things aren’t going smoothly with the band members. When one of them plagiarizes one of Lark’s songs and passes it off as his own, will Lark gain the courage to step into the spotlight herself?

Dip into it for…girl vs boy band

…innocent adventures with a self-effacing and  down-to-earth main character who is going through some majorly disruptive life events.  Lark is a girl with a lot of talent but not much confidence, whose recent family breakup has meant that she has had to move to a new town.  Her best friend Mimi provides the comic relief and the encouragement and the strong friendship developed throughout the book will appeal to young female readers.  As indeed will the attractive young males that suddenly appear in Lark’s house, due to her mother’s job as a musical talent agent and recording studio boss.  Generally, this is a story featuring a positive pair of female leads, pitched at a female audience on the cusp of the teenage experience.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not up for a tween-girl issues fest.  I will admit that this is not my kind of book, and while there is obviously a gap in the market that needs to be filled with age-appropriate content for young women who are venturing into the romance/contemporary genre and need something slightly less adult-themed than your typical YA title, I cannot picture the actual young person who will pick up this book and get excited about it.  Clearly, I am not the target audience for this one.

Overall Dip Factor

If you can stomach tween-angst (or you are a tween), then this is a fun, light read with some beguiling main characters on a crazy, growing-up adventure.  There’s a bit of diversity thrown in, in that Mimi, Lark’s best friend is Latina.  This is a good opening piece for what will be an ongoing series with a slight cliffhanger ending that will entice readers to seek out the second book.  Overall, I enjoyed the friendship between Mimi and Lark and the focus on Lark gaining confidence to shine her light, as it were.

Next up we have The Bubble Boy by Stewart Foster, which we received from Simon & Schuster Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

They call it a crash when the blood goes from my head to my feet, pours out into the room and drains through a hole in the middle of the floor. They call it a crash when the walls start spinning and the pictures blur. Then the ceiling turns black and the floor turns black and I don’t know which way I’m facing any more.

Eleven-year-old Joe can’t remember a life outside of his hospital room, with its beeping machines and view of London’s rooftops. His condition means he’s not allowed outside, not even for a moment, and his few visitors risk bringing life-threatening germs inside his ‘bubble’. But then someone new enters his world and changes it for ever.

THE BUBBLE BOY is the story of how Joe spends his days, copes with his loneliness and frustrations, and looks – with superhero-syle bravery, curiosity and hope – to a future without limits. Expect superheroes, super nurses and a few tears from this truly unique story.

Dip into it for…the bubble boy

…a remarkably engaging story, considering that all the action takes place entirely in the one room!  Joe is a winning narrator, and despite the fact that the majority of the other characters in the book are adults, the story never loses the feel of being a middle grade read, told by a middle grade-aged protagonist.  The inclusion of Henry, Joe’s fellow bubble boy from America, and their regular Skype chats, plus the computer forum interactions between Joe and various others provides a nice change in format from the typical text, and reflects the sense that it is mostly tiny changes in day-to-day routine that Joe looks forward to.  There are some big issues at play here, but Foster manages to keep most of them in balance with a deft hand.

Don’t dip if…

…you are looking for an action-packed adventure.  Much like a long, uneventful hospital stay, the book moves at a leisurely, predictable pace with stretches of sameness punctuated by startling interludes.

Overall Dip Factor

This is a middle grade “relationship and growth” novel that is atypical in the telling.  While there are challenges and sad events that Joe has to face, there is an undeniable sense of warmth and security running through the book that neatly compensates for the more ominous elements of Joe’s life.  On reflection, I wonder how the book might have read differently, had Joe’s parents been in the picture, but that is just idle curiosity.  Overall, The Bubble Boy is an intriguing and thought-provoking (and quite funny) foray into middle-grade sicklit (!) and a strong second offering from Foster.

I hope your appetite for middle grade reading has been sated somewhat by these two titles!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Ollie’s Odyssey: A Top Book of 2016 Pick!

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Bruce's Pick

We’ve got a right old beauty for you today: an early middle grade, art-fest, epic-quest beauty chock full of original characters that you will just want to cuddle (or run away from…depending).  Today’s book is also a Top Book of 2016 pick for its stunning visual appeal and gorgeous presentation.  So what is today’s book?

It’s Ollie’s Odyssey by William Joyce, which we received gratefully from Simon & Schuster Australia for review.  I won’t keep you in suspense any longer though – here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Can a beloved but lost stuffed rabbit save himself and other Losts from becoming the most feared designation of all: The Forgotten? Find out in this epic quest from the author of The Guardians series and the creative force behind The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

Ollie is a favorite. Of all the toys in Billy’s home, the stuffed rabbit takes top rank: everywhere Billy goes, so goes Ollie. But being a favorite is more than a privilege—it’s also fraught with danger. Because of Zozo.

Zozo has never been a favorite. An amusement park prize who was never chosen, Zozo has grown so bitter that, when the amusement park closes, he seeks revenge on every toy lucky enough to be a favorite. He wants them all to become The Lost, and even better, Forgotten.

When Billy accidentally leaves Ollie under the table at a wedding, Ollie finds himself on an unplanned adventure, kidnapped by the nefarious Zozo and his gang of creeps and faced with the momentous task of saving not only himself, but all the other stuffies who are “lost” as well…

With nods to Toy Story and Knuffle Bunny, but with that insoucient joie de vivre that is all William Joyce’s and Moonbot’s own, here’s a look at what REALLY goes on with your stuffed animals when the lights are out.

ollies odyssey

We had our collective eye on this from the moment we saw the cover and read the blurb, but we were unprepared for the incredible thud of loveliness when this hardback treasure landed on the doormat.  Just to give you an idea of the gasp-worthiness of this book’s presentation, here’s a taster:

Pretty impressive, no?  One of the biggest pleasures of the reading experience of Ollie’s Odyssey is the tactile nature of the book itself – it’s satisfyingly heavy, the pages are tinted with a slight sepia tone and those eye-popping illustrations are not rationed out but appear regularly every few pages.  There are even a couple of double page spreads that take things to the next level.

Just from flicking through the illustrations, it’s obvious that the book contains some highly original characters.  Reminiscent of Jim Henson’s original characters in films like the Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, Joyce has pulled out all the stops in exploring the dark underbelly of children’s imaginations, while trusting that the overall courage and warmth of the main characters will keep his young readers on the right side of the “frights” divide.  Besides, all the best stories push the reader a little bit in the scares department, don’t you think?  We especially loved the junkyard characters as they reminded us strongly of a more innocent version of the creations in Garry Kilworth’s Attica, one of our favourite books.  There’s an enormous amount to be said for taking a risk with inanimate objects as characters and plumbing the theme of forgotten, lost and useless entities.  Something about these kind of characters certainly fires our imaginations and generally leads to the characters taking on lives of their own in our heads.

Ollie is possibly the most adorable original character we’ve seen in a while, a teddy-bunny with his own dialect that has grown out of being the favourite toy of a young lad from birth to kid-hood.  Despite being a “homemade”, kid’s will definitely see their own favourite toy reflected in Ollie and will no doubt cheer him along as he takes on a seemingly insurmountable quest to get back to his boy.  There will be obvious comparisons made between this book and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, both for the presentation and the content.  Ollie’s story is a bit simpler and less heart-breakingly emotional than Edward’s though (from what I can remember of Edward’s story anyway – it’s been a while since I’ve read that one), which makes it a great choice for a read-aloud or read-together for those just moving into the middle grade age bracket.

Mad Martha was so enamoured of Ollie that she couldn’t resist whipping up a pocket-sized Ollie to join us on the shelf.  Ours doesn’t contain the contentious bell-heart, but will be a cherished Shelf-denizen nonetheless:

pocket ollie

I would definitely recommend getting your dexterous human hands on Ollie’s Odyssey.  Apart from the fact that it would make a jaw-dropping gift for some lucky mini-fleshing, Ollie is a character that deserves a place on your shelf.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Surprising YA” Edition…

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I hope you aren’t too saddle sore from our Mega Supersized Round-Up earlier in the week, because I now have three YA titles for you that you will definitely want to be sizing up.  I’ve got historical fiction, fantasy and a bit of weird science for you, so we’d better get straight to it!

These Shallow Graves (Jennifer Donnelly)

*We received a copy of These Shallow Graves from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis: 

these shallow graves

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly  Published by Allen & Unwin, 22nd June 2016.  RRP: $16.99

 

Josephine Montfort comes from one of New York’s most wealthy families, but harbours a secret desire to be a journalist, uncovering the lives of the poor and downtrodden. When her father dies, apparently from suicide, Josephine decides to go out on a limb, putting her journalistic skills to the test in an investigation that will have major ramifications for her family…and herself, if she is discovered.

Muster up the motivation because…

It’s quite refreshing to see a historical murder mystery that isn’t set in Victorian England.  While all the manners and social proprieties are still there, These Shallow Graves has a slightly different flavour, as the “new” and “old” money families battle it out in an unspoken war to be the most prominent.  There’s even a particularly mouthy grandmother character who reminded me strongly of Shouty Doris!  Josephine is a character that young female readers will immediately be drawn to – fiercely independent despite her coddled existence, with a desire to step out of the boundaries that society has set for her.  I enjoyed how the author doesn’t try to make Jo more worldly than she could possibly have been, given her upbringing.  As she discovers more about the seedier side of life, it’s obvious that Jo is undergoing rapid personal growth and making decisions about who she will be in her pre-destined world.  There is the obligatory love triangle, between Jo, her intended marital match and Ed, the young journalist far below Jo’s lofty station who assists Jo in her investigations.  As far as the murder mystery goes, I wasn’t entirely gripped by these elements and would have preferred things on that front to move a lot faster.  The book is more a 50/50 split between romance and mystery however, and with romance not really being my thing, I didn’t end up loving this one but found it easy to get into nonetheless.  I’d definitely recommend this one to fans of historical fiction and particularly historical cosy mysteries, who are looking for a slight change of pace from the English mysteries that seem to be this genre’s bread and butter.

Brand it with:

Sisters doin’ it for themselves, investigative journalism, sticking up for the little guy

Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend (Alan Cumyn)

* We received a copy of Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend from Simon & Schuster Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis: hot pterodactyl boyfriend

Shiels is in her final year of high school, the student-body chair, has definite plans about studying political sociology at college after she graduates and can count on Sheldon, her boyfriend-fixture, to support her in everything she does. Then Pyke, a pterodactyl, turns up to attend Vista View High and Shiels’ carefully laid plans go awry.

Muster up the motivation because…

How could you not want to read this, with a title like Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend??  I remember being desperate to get my claws on this one when it was released and now that I’ve read it, it was entirely not what I was expecting!  I was thinking that this must be a comedy.  Had to be.  But surprisingly, this is actually a really down-to-earth story of a girl whose plans have been hit for a six, that just happens to include an actual pterodactyl as a character.  After reading it, I can see that this could be any typical YA story wherein the main character undergoes massive personal upheaval due to an unexpected occurrence – an illness, the death of a loved one, someone coming out, a friendship breakdown – but the particular unexpected occurrence featured here is Shiels falling in love with a pterodactyl.  If you can get your head around that, then you’ll be far more prepared than I going into the reading experience.  Having said that, I quickly became absorbed by Shiels’ story.  She’s a likeable character despite the fact that she has quite glaring personality flaws that cause problems in her relationships.  The situations she gets caught up in – apart from the whole pterodactyl thing, obviously – are believable and readers in the target age group should be able to relate.  I did find my interest waning a little around two-thirds of the way into the book, but I enjoyed the ending (which dipped into the “utterly bizarre” category of magical realism – or should that be “prehistoric realism”?) and overall I think this is a solid and engaging read with one big, flapping, screeching point of difference.  Having had a look on Goodreads, the ratings are completely split in a loved it/hated it divide, but I definitely enjoyed this one even though it didn’t turn out to be the comedy I expected it to be.

Brand it with:

I believe I can fly, diversity in education, prehistoric problems

The Witch’s Kiss (Katharine & Elizabeth Corr)

*We received a copy of The Witch’s Kiss from HarperCollins Australia for review* 

Two Sentence Synopsis: the witchs kiss

For Merry, being a witch hasn’t ever been much of a problem…until her actions nearly cost her boyfriend his life. But if she thought that was the worst that might happen, Merry is sadly mistaken – because an ancient curse is about to surface and Merry will need every ounce of her ability to safeguard the people of her town, or die in the attempt.

Muster up the motivation because…

I found this to be a solid, well-constructed story with just the right blend of contemporary teen angst and historical magical curse.  I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this book, as I was worried that the romance elements might overpower the fantasy elements of the story.  I should not have feared though, because the authors manage to balance those two parts masterfully, so that the inevitable romance between Jack and Merry neatly complements the heart-stabbing, murderous, magical bits.  It was super refreshing to see a strong sister-brother partnership as the main protagonists, and Leo is a great balance to Merry’s impulsiveness and tendency toward pessimism.  The story alternates between the present day, as Merry and Leo attempt to stop the King of Hearts, who is carrying out random attacks on innocent people in their town, and hundreds of years ago, when the curse on the King of Hearts originated.  As Merry becomes more involved in the curse unfolding in the present day, her links to her ancestors become clearer, and the ending deftly brings these two periods in history together at a cracking pace.  The only problem I had with this book is that it is a series-opener.  To me, this is the perfect kind of story for a standalone – the ending is not left as a cliffhanger and I felt like all the loose ends were tied up.  Sometimes I like to know that on finishing a book, I have experienced all there is to experience with a set of characters and I am happy to have done so.  I’m not entirely sure where the story will go in a sequel, but I was perfectly satisfied with this one as an entity in itself.  I’d recommend this to those who love fantasy stories that have a fable-type feel with a contemporary twist, and don’t mind a little bit of romance to tie things together.

Brand it with:

Which witch is which?, Curse you!, Unrequited love

Three very different YA titles for you here – surely there’s something you want to get your hands on?

Until next time,

Bruce