Some Middle Grade Wolfishness: A Double-Dip Review…and a Fi50 Reminder!

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Before we break out the extreme nacho cheese snack dippers, allow me to remind you that Fiction in 50 for March will be kicking off on Monday.  Our prompt for this month is…kernel of truth

If you’d like to join in, simply compose a piece of poetry or prose in 50 words or fewer and link it to my Fi50 post on Monday in the comments.  For more detailed instructions, and to find out more about the challenge, click here.

Now onto the main course!  Today I have two middle grade books that feature wolfishness in a variety of forms.  One is a fable, the other is an urban fantasy detective lark.  I received both titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Select your snack food of choice and let’s get dipping!

First up, for those who love a good old fable we have A Wolf at the Gate by Mark Van Steenwyk.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The Blood Wolf prowls near the village of Stonebriar at night. She devours chickens and goats and cows and cats. Some say children are missing. But this murderous wolf isn’t the villain of our story; she’s the hero! The Blood Wolf hates humankind for destroying the forest, but an encounter with a beggar teaches her a better way to confront injustice. How will she react when those she loves are threatened?

Dip into it for…  wolf at the gate

… a retelling of the story of St Francis and the wolf of Gubbio, Italy.  I was not familiar with the story before reading the book, and I think this probably heightened my enjoyment of the story, as although I could predict where the story might go, I didn’t have the ending in mind before beginning.  While not a super-fan of fables, I found this retelling to be very easy to engage with, as the narrative style certainly reflected the familiar style of fables and moral stories, but there was enough original material here to stave off the “I know where this is going and how it’s going to get there” boredom of being stuck listening to a fable.  The plot moves quickly and there are enough changes in setting and the situation of the wolf to keep things interesting.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like fables. Or wolves.  Or forgiveness.  Otherwise, I think this is a very appealing little tome.

Overall Dip Factor:

A Wolf at the Gate would be a great choice as a read-aloud for the early to middle primary classroom when studying fables, Christian mythology or just ethics in general.  Van Steenwyk never refers to St Francis in the text, creating instead the character of “The Beggar King”, a wandering wise man, so there’s no worry here about getting bogged down in Christian ideology if that isn’t your thing.  As a reading choice for middle graders (and even slightly younger children) this is a quick read with plenty of discussion-starting material, as well as being an engaging story peppered with stylised illustrations.

Now, onto the urban fantasy detective lark, Howl at the Moon: A Liarus Detective Novel by L. A. Starkey.  Here’s the blurb from Patchwork Press:

Eighth graders, Ben, Jake, and Leah need cash, and mowing lawns in the winter just isn’t cutting it. Their need for cash births the Liarus (Liars R Us) Detective Agency! Their first client is Old Lady Smitz, who is said to have murdered her three sons and husband. She’s missing a family heirloom, but it’s not just any old trinket, it’s the crest of Lykoi.

There are only two rules: No girls are allowed and never seal a deal with the witch doctor. Disregarding danger, these three discover that money is usually more trouble than it’s worth!

Dip into it for… howl at the moon

…a rollicking adventure that is squarely aimed at the  upper middle grade/lower YA market, and has a definite male skew, with the two main characters being ladsy boys.  There’s plenty of banter and social goings-on not entirely related to the detective work happening here alongside the supernatural elements.  There are the obligatory people involved who aren’t what they seem and a seemingly anti-feminist angle with the stipulation that no girls are allowed on the job.  Of course though, there’s a twist in the tale (tail?) and what began as a foolproof plan becomes slightly more complicated for our intrepid heroes.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a novel that focuses in on the detective agency part.  There is a LOT of romance-y, who-likes-who, unrequited crush business going on here and it took a little time to actually get to the forming of the detective agency.

Overall Dip Factor:

To be honest, I had a hard time with this book.  I was really looking forward to a new series with a supernatural AND detective angle, but there was just way too much adolescent romance going on that just slowed the whole thing down.  I couldn’t figure out why it was included, when there was perfectly good supernatural stuff that could have held the tale on its own. There was also a lot of banter and back-and-forth dialogue between the two main male characters and at times I just wanted to shout, “Alright! Just shut up and get on with it!”

If convoluted teen romance and adolescent chatter is no problem for you however, and you enjoy supernatural mysteries, then definitely give this one a go.  I suspect I will be leaving the Liarus Detective Agency with this novel, but I wish them well on their future endeavours.

So there we have two wolfish tales that may have whetted your appetite.  Although if you have any dip left over, perhaps you should consider sharing it with the dog. Or wolf.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

The Forgiveness Project: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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imageNonfiction 2015 Welcome to another Five Things I’ve Learned review.  Today I have a read which was both highly engaging and deeply thought-provoking, and as it consists of a collection of personal stories I am going to submit it for the Non-fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader, in which I have chosen to participate. Hence the comfortable chair.

I received a copy of The Forgiveness Project: Stories for a Vengeful Age by Marina Cantacuzino (and others) from the publishers via Netgalley, and I am very glad to have done so because it’s been a while since I’ve read a book that lays out its concept so simply, but with such depth of thought behind it.  Allow me to elaborate.

In 2004 in London, Marina Cantacuzino opened a photographic exhibition called “The F Word”.  Featuring pictures of victims of all sorts of crime and trauma alongside their perpetrators, the exhibition drew both congratulations and controversy, so loaded is our diverse sense of the act of forgiving.  In this book, Cantacuzino has collected personal narratives from those who have chosen to forgive, rather than seek vengeance.  Featuring people from all nations, and victims and perpetrators of everything from street crime, to incest to terrorism and genocide, this book is striking in its breadth, as well as in the depth to which the process of forgiveness has changed the lives of those whose stories are collected here.

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So here are Five Things I’ve Learned from

The Forgiveness Project

1. Forgiveness does not have to have a spiritual connotation.

2.  For many people, forgiveness is a process, rather than a final destination.

3.  It appears that its possibly to forgive even the most heinous and unimaginable of crimes, given the right context.

4.  To forgive is to invite judgement.

5.  The power of art and narrative, simply expressed, is undeniable.

I admit that I was a little afraid when I picked this book up that it would be replete with graphic and disturbing recollections of terrible events, with a bit of a focus on why forgiving is a good thing.  Happily, this collection is nothing of the sort and, in my opinion, much the better for it.

The book begins with a comprehensive, yet very readable, introduction from the author, explaining the original photographic exhibition and the response it garnered, both positive and negative.  While many were pleased and moved by the imagery and stories on offer in the exhibition, others were angered about everything from the stories featured to the title of the exhibition connoting forgiveness with a swear word.  This introduction sets the tone beautifully for the real essence of the book.  It is not meant to be a prescriptive, everyone-should-forgive-and-this-is-how-you-do-it sort of guide, but an in-depth exploration of the concept of forgiveness: what it is, how it works and the different ways in which individuals have used the concept to achieve a desired end in their lives.

The great strength of the collection, I think, is the variety of stories and individuals featured and the myriad ways that they have engaged with the concept of forgiveness.  For some, forgiveness arrived as a creative way to take their identity or personal power back from their perpetrator.  Others undertook forgiveness as a conscious choice to release their right to revenge, or as a means to break a cycle of violence.  Some of the narrators have a background featuring a spiritual understanding of forgiveness, while others are more pragmatic about the concept and still others wish not to label their actions as “forgiveness” for reasons personal to their story.

Many of the narrators note how loaded the concept is and mention the backlash they received after seeking to forgive.  This backlash could come from many corners – from fellow survivors, who consider forgiveness as trivialising or excusing the event or behaviour; from family or friends, who could not understand how one could forgive certain heinous crimes; from non-forgivers, who feel judged because of the magnanimity of those who do forgive.

Overall, I found this to be an incredibly important reading experience in what does seem to be a “vengeful age”, as well as a litigious one.  I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in peaceful responses to violence and injustice, or indeed anyone who is simply looking for some incredibly gripping and inspirational personal narratives from around the world, presented in simple, bite-sized chunks.

I realise it’s only March, but I feel pretty safe in saying that this is one of my “Top Picks of 2015″, were I to engage in such list-making.

Progress toward Non-Fiction Reading Challenge Goal: 3/10

Until next time,

Bruce

An MG Haiku Review and Double GIVEAWAY!: Nightbird….

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Good morning my well-read poppets! Today I have a syllabic haiku for a lyrical story as well as TWO copies of said story to give away to TWO of you lucky well-read poppets! The book for today is a beautiful, uplifting, mysterious, questing sort of story perfect for the middle-grader in your life, or the middle-grader in your psyche.  Nightbird by Alice Hoffman is that rare creature of modern publishing: an original story featuring the familiar themes of magic and friendship.  I was lucky enough to receive two copies of the book from Simon and Schuster Australia – one that I won, and one for review – and so I now have two copies of this sweet little tale to pass on to you.  Let’s crack on!

From Goodreads:

Twig lives in Sidwell, where people whisper that fairy tales are real. After all, her town is rumored to hide a monster. And two hundred years ago, a witch placed a curse on Twig’s family that was meant to last forever. But this summer, everything will change when the red moon rises. It’s time to break the spell.nightbird

In dappled moonlight

an ancient curse finds freedom

hidden things revealed

I shan’t give anything away about the tale, but if you look closely at the cover you may be able to pick up some hints about the magical twist that keeps Twig separate from the other kids in her town.  This was a really unexpected read as the blurb doesn’t reflect the many complex goings-on in Twig’s life that started two-hundred years ago with a witch’s curse and are still being played out in Twig’s day-to-day business.

Hoffman has created a tale that is both tightly woven and lyrically expressed in Nightbird.  The story is a strangely satisfying hybrid of ordinary “odd-kid-out-finds-friendship” fare mixed with “magic-and-witches-and-curses” in small town America.  I particularly enjoyed how the author hasn’t tried to over-reach with trying to make the book action-packed or overly exciting – the tone and pace perfectly match the laid-back vibe of life in the country for a kid who’s a little bit lonely, and acutely aware of the reasons why her family must stand apart from the ordinary goings on of town life.

Nightbird has all the elements of a good “this truly might have happened” sort of magical tale.  There’s the historical influence, of ancient acts that are still being played out by innocent parties, there are spells, and a mysterious journal that could help solve all of Twig’s problems, as well as one or two adults who might be more than they appear. I’d recommend this for lovers of middle grade fantasy that has a gentle pace coupled with a spirited heart.

Now, to winning!  I have two print copies to give away – one for international readers and one specifically for Australian readers.  Aussies, you can enter the International giveaway too if you want to double your chances! To enter, click on the relevant Rafflecopter links below:

For International Readers

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For Australian Readers

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I can’t wait to share the love and send these little babies off to some new forever homes, so get clicking and entering.  Good luck!

Until we meet again, may all your happy dreams grow wings and take flight,

Mad Martha

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The Quirky Graphic Novel Edition…

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Saddle up readerinoes, and let’s round up a herd of graphic novels!  Today I have three quirky little numbers that differ in art style, content and tone but share all the elements of some memorable reading.  I received all three from their publishers via Netgalley.

Oddly Normal: Book 1 (Otis Frampton)

Two Sentence Synopsis:   oddly normal

Oddly Normal is a half-witch who doesn’t fit in at school (the pointy ears might have something to do with it) and can’t make her parents understand what her life is really like.  After accidentally wishing her parents away, Oddly is transported to Fignation, an imaginary world, by her witchy aunt and must figure out what vile magic caused her current predicament.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a light, fun read that will appeal to a middle grade audience looking for a break from the general chapter-book format.  The story is of the standard “misfit gets bullied and must find a way to rise up” plot variety, but the artwork and colouring is quite stunning for its cartoony style.  Certainly this book has great visual appeal and enough text to make the story feel quite filled out – by the end, even though it’s a quick read as most graphic novels are – I felt like I’d read something reasonably substantial, and the story ends on a cliff-hanger, so there’s scope for new twists and turns in the next volume.

Brand it with:

pointy-eared oddities, fun with cartoons, embarrassing relatives, villains and anti-heroes

I’m submitting this tome for my Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge under category one – books with an odd title – as the word odd is right there on the cover.  If you’d like to find out more about the challenge (and join in!), just click on this button:

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Hinges: Book 1 Clockwork City (Meredith McClaren)

Two Sentence Synopsis:hinges

Orio awakes in the Clockwork City and meets Alluet, her guide, who helps her find an appropriate occupation.  Orio’s odd (sort of like a familiar, or companion creature) Bauble seems to have ideas of his own and embarks on a campaign to manoeuvre the citizens of the Clockwork City in the direction he wants.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a very intriguing plot for a graphic novel, with nothing spelled out.  The onus is on the reader to make sense of what’s going on for the strangely silent Orio and the curious world of the Clockwork City, which I found trying at times, particularly during long stretches of artwork with no text.  Overall though, I enjoyed the originality of the tale but found the dark blue and grey tones of the manga artwork to be a bit tricky to distinguish on my iPad screen – this would possibly work better in print, even though it started life as a webcomic.

Brand it with:

unfamiliar familiars, machinations aplenty, mend and make do, strange new worlds

 

 

A Glance Backward (Pierre Pacquet & Tony Sandoval)

Two Sentence Synopsis: a glance backward

Eleven-year-old Pepe buys some illicit fireworks for a bit of fun and finds himself inexplicably pulled inside the walls of his home and into a bizarre, unsettling world where no one is who they seem and answers are hard to come by.  On his journey to find his way home, Pepe discovers hidden powers, makes some mistakes (some with grievous and violent consequences) and ultimately makes it out the other side with a new perspective.

Muster up the motivation because…

… this is one of the most original and thought-provoking takes on a coming-of-age tale that I have encountered.  The art is striking, arresting and all the more mesmeric for sometimes being shocking and unpleasant.  This is certainly a book for young adults and grown-ups as there is quite a lot of graphic violence towards the end, but a couple of twists at the end of the book really pack a punch in making this a hugely memorable tale that will stick with you for its relatable pathos as well as for its incredible imagery.

Brand it with:

the lonely path to adulthood, shifting perspectives, metaphorically speaking, the inner world

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge goal: 6/16

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Utopirama: Dogtology – Live. Bark. Believe.

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Welcome to Utopirama, the feature in which we present to you books that are guaranteed to uplift the weary of spirit and buff the corns of the emotionally downtrodden.  Today’s tome undertakes to prove once and for all the philosophical debate relating to whether humans’ appreciation of dog-kind has in fact attained religious status.  In Dogtology: Live. Bark. Believe, author and dog-lover J. Lazarus argues that it certainly has.

dogtology

Quick Overview:

Humanity’s love of canines is both universal and ancient.  In recent decades, at least in more affluent nations, the exaltation of our doggy friends seems to have reached a fever pitch.  Attentive owners purchase all manner of accoutrements for their pampered pooches, behaving in many cases as if their dogs were more important than their human relations.  Lazarus uses this tome to define and explain Dogtology: a religious belief system that retains at its core an unwavering belief in the goodness, connection and solace provided by Dog. After all, there could be good reason why dog spelled backwards is “god”.

Using humour and a light touch Lazarus spells out the ways in which human behaviour towards dogs has, over hundreds of years, developed to mirror the ritualistic practices associated with other world religions.  In clearly delineated chapters, the over-the-top actions of enamoured dog owners is flipped on its head and closely compared to other spiritual belief systems in an attempt to show how humanity has elevated humanity’s humble, shoe-chewing, face-slobbering, bum-sniffing companion to the status of a deity.  Non-believers be warned – the time of the Dogtologist is already upon us.

Utopian Themes:

Human’s best friend

“Normal” is relative

Sniffing out a connection

Spiritual philosophy for the layperson

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

protective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubble

Three bubbles for the comforting odour of a couch upholstered in dog hair

I am also submitting this one towards my Non-Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader.

Nonfiction 2015

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop!

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Lucky-Leprechaun-Hop-2015

Welcome to my stop on the Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop.  This hop is hosted by I Am A Reader, Not a Writer and runs from March 17th to 29th. There are over 100 blogs participating, so don’t forget after entering here to hop around and see what other pots of gold are on offer for your winning pleasure.

I am offering ONE winner their choice of book up to $10AUD from the Book Depository.  The giveaway is open internationally, provided you live in a country to which the BD ships for free.  Other Ts & Cs are in the Rafflecopter.
To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link just below this sentence:

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here’s the list of other participating blogs:

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


Hop off, my pretties and good luck!

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: The Norfolk Mystery…

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Welcome to another Mondays are for Murder feature. I feel I must apologise for perhaps leading some of you up the garden path.  You see I mentioned in my last MafM feature that I would be featuring Dorothy L. Sayers work this time around.  Well, I did try. I picked up Whose Body? and tried to wade through it alongside Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, but I just couldn’t do it.  I don’t know whether it was the writing, the character or my mood at the time (or a combination of all three) but I quickly tired of Lord Peter (who, let’s face it, is no Poirot or Marple) and made an executive decision to move on.  Sorry.

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So instead, today I have the first in Ian Sansom’s “County Guides” series, The Norfolk Mystery.  I’ve had my eye on this one for a while and I finally found it at our new library so was spared the expense of buying it. Which turned out to be quite a spectacular turn of good luck, as you will discover. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In The Norfolk Mystery, the first in the County Guides series, we meet Swanton Morley. Eccentric, autodidact – the ‘People’s Professor.’ Morley plans to write a series of guides to the counties of England. He employs a young assistant, Stephen Sefton, veteran of the Spanish Civil War, and together with Morley’s daughter, Miriam, they set off through Norfolk, where their sightseeing tour quickly turns into a murder investigation.

As Morley confronts the conventions of class, education and politics in 1930s England, as Sefton flees his memories of the war, and as Miriam seeks romance, join them on their first adventure into the dark heart of England.  When Morley’s map leads to mystery, no one is above suspicion!

norfolk mystery

I feel I should shed more light on the above blurb by mentioning that on arrival in their first port-of-call in Norfolk, to peruse a church of some significance, Sefton and Morley are greeted by a duo of upset ladies and are shown to the rectory, in which hangs the lifeless body of the village vicar.  I’m not entirely sure why the blurb is so obtuse about the central plot point, but consider yourself enlightened.

The Usual Suspects:

For all intents and purposes, the vicar’s death appears to be a suicide so until Morley mentions the possibility of murder, nobody had actually considered it.  Immediately upon mentioning murder, Morley and Sefton become chief suspects, being strangers who have conveniently turned up out of nowhere and happen to have stumbled upon a not-very-suspicious death.  When Morley and Sefton take up the potential case however, a host of village regulars come into play – the odious local professor, the village doctor, and various wives and barfolk who wish to keep themselves to themselves.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Again, since there is no official cause to suspect that the vicar’s death is murder, the investigation is kept somewhat on the down-low by Morley and Sefton, who conduct their interrogations through the veil of polite inquiry and socially-sanctioned conversation.  Suffice to say, this is one murder-mystery the likes of which I have never encountered.

Overall Rating:

poison clip artpoison clip art

Two poison bottles for an abundance of unnecessary confusion and delay

In detailing some important point during the investigation, Morley notes that for most suicides, if one were to detail one’s thought processes, one might say “I would not have committed suicide, but for (insert situation here)”.  For example, “I would not have committed suicide, but for the fact that I went bankrupt” or whatever.  I feel it is appropriate to comment in the same vein on my enjoyment of this book.  So here goes:

I would have enjoyed this book, but for the inclusion of Morley himself, as I found him possibly the most distracting, annoying and generally convoluting character I have ever encountered, and would have enjoyed nothing more than to poke him with great force in his flabby underbelly with a sharpened fork.

If you are familiar with British sitcoms of the early 1990s, you will gain a fuller understanding of the character of Morley should I compare him to one Gordon Brittas, from  the BBC’s The Brittas Empire.  Only Morley is considerably more intelligent than Mr Brittas.  If you are unfamiliar with the aforementioned program, allow me to elaborate.  Morley is so verbose as to derail, it seems, even the author in his attempts to keep the plot following a reasonably efficient tack.  He is a well-intentioned character, but his entire reason for being appears to involve distracting, deflecting and otherwise drawing away the attention of the reader (and the poor, suffering Sefton) from the situation at hand.  In my opinion, what this book really needed was this, courtesy of Monty Python:

I had great hopes for this series, but as Morley has annoyed me so greatly I will not be continuing on and will leave Sefton to suffer in silence.  I will however, still have a go at the Mobile Library series written by Sansom, because I enjoyed his writing style, if not his main character.  I’d love to know what others have thought of this series if there are any among you who have read it though.

Until next time,

Bruce