Who’s Had A Poo? (and lots of other questions): A Picture Book GSQ Review



It’s time for a GSQ review and today’s book offers a fun, unusual brain-workout for littlies and their grown-ups, and surprisingly, doesn’t have much to do with poo but does have a lot to do with seeking, deducing and figuring out nifty visual clues.  We received a copy of Who’s Had A Poo? (and lots of other questions) by Anton Poitier and Tracey Cottingham from the good folk at Five Mile Press – thanks! – and we will now subject it to the rigours of a Good, Sad and Quirky review!

whos had a poo

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

This amusing spot the difference book is entertaining and educational for pre-schoolers. Each spread features the same group of animals – with a twist. A question appears, prompting children to spot the difference.

Who’s splashing who? Who’s swapped places? The simple and fun questions featured throughout the book allow children to use their analytical skills of concentration, thinking and observation to provide the correct answers.

Cute and quirky illustrations of animals ensures children are interested, with the interactive game-like spot the difference nature of the book keeping them engaged.

The Good


Who’s Had A Poo? is one of those ideas that is a sure-fire winner for the simple reason that it engages kids by asking a pretty ordinary question and letting the kids do the detective work.  The idea of the book is that children (and their grown ups) explore page spreads containing the same set of animals, with just one or two tiny differences on each page that relate to the question.

Here’s an example:

page spread_Fotor

Can you spot who’s ready for lunch?  What I love most about this type of search-and-find book is that it’s not as simple as just finding Wally (or Waldo, as our American friends know him), but it almost requires a conversation on the reasons a certain animal is chosen as fitting the particular question.  For the page spread above, for instance, the panda is the obvious choice, but perhaps the duck could fit the bill as well (pun intended) – it depends on how well one can articulate one’s choice.

Apart from the sleuthing that is the book’s main focus, the bright, cheeky animal illustrations and the die-cut, peekaboo holes on the front cover are sure to draw in the mini punters for a rewarding reading experience.

And if you’re wondering whether this book is too advanced for the younger end of the picture book market, I took the trouble of testing it on the youngest mini-fleshling in the dwelling (two years old) and she loved it to bits.  It’s quite surprising how children so young can use the visual cues to answer the question, even if they can’t articulate their reasoning exactly.  This book was also fun for finding out which animals the mini-fleshlings knew – the peacock was a bit of challenge, the chameleon a new favourite, and all the rest that she didn’t know took on the mantle of “hippo”.

The Sadimage

The only downside I can see with this book is the title.  I’m afraid the reference to poo may be misleading and cause some parents and carers to bypass it, if they are averse to poo-based picture books (of which, we can all agree, there are many).  Allow me to assure you that the book is NOT about poo – except for one page, that asks “Who’s had a poo?” and which both the mini-fleshlings found absolutely hilarious.

The Quirky


If this was the first book of this type that I had ever seen, I would be leaping around, shouting its praises from the rooftops.  I still feel inclined to shout its praises, perhaps from a slightly lower vantage point but I actually stumbled across this concept late last year after a tip off from Read It Daddy, with their review of Who Done It? by Olivier Tallec.  I immediately bought the book, given that I trust their judgement implicitly and so I and the mini-fleshlings were introduced to this concept of sleuthing for visual cues.  Who Done It? is an exceptional book, but there are a number of differences between that and Who’s Had A Poo? and if I point these out, it might make deciding which one you’ll read first a little easier, based on your personal preference.

Firstly, Who’s Had A Poo? is your standard picture book format, while Who Done It? comes in a long, rectangular format that requires you to turn the pages by lifting them up.  Who Done It? also features only eight or nine figures on each page, and these are different for each page spread leading to discrete questions and answers, whereas Who’s Had a Poo? has the same set of twenty-four animals on each page and some of the questions require the reader to turn back to the previous page to figure out the answer to the question.  I was pretty stumped by the “Who’s swapped places?” page until I did a bit of judicious page-flicking, but the two-year-old picked “Who’s changed colour?” with nary a blink of the eye while I was left scratching my head for a bit.

The level of challenge in Who’s Had a Poo? also increases throughout the book, given that the questions have multiple answers as the book goes on.  Where in the beginning only one animal might fit the criteria, towards the end some pages have up to six animals that fit the answer.  This is great fun, and led to races between the mini-fleshlings to see who could spot all the creatures with the right characteristics. I, of course, am above such undignified behaviour.

I hope this book has piqued your interest. I must say, it is a search and find concept that I have taken to with great adoration and I hope that more books along this line make it to publication in the near future.  Oh, and if you haven’t come across the Read It Daddy blog before, and you are a fan of children’s and middle grade titles, do yourself a favour and pop on over.  You won’t be disappointed!

Until next time,



Mondays are for Murder: Running Girl


imageIt’s murderous Monday once again and today I have a right cracker of a contemporary murder mystery for you: Running Girl by Simon Mason.  I can tell you that this would have been a Top Book of 2016 pick for sure, except it was published in 2014.  Instead, I’m going to submit it for both the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge and my own Title Fight Reading Challenge but I’ll leave those specific details until the end of the post.  Running Girl is touted as a YA offering, but I don’t see it personally, and would happily place it in adult fiction any day of the week.  But since today isn’t any day of the week, let’s get on with Mondays are for Murder with the blurb from Goodreads:

Meet Garvie Smith. Highest IQ ever recorded at Marsh Academy. Lowest ever grades. What’s the point, anyway? Life sucks. Nothing ever happens.

Until Chloe Dow’s body is pulled from a pond.

DI Singh is already on the case. Ambitious, uptight, methodical – he’s determined to solve the mystery and get promoted. He doesn’t need any ‘assistance’ from notorious slacker, Smith.

Or does he?

running girl

Plot Summary:

Beautiful, athletic, better-than-you, sixteen year old Chloe Dow goes missing after her daily run and a few days later is pulled from a pond along one of her regular running routes.  Garvie Smith used to date Chloe and, what with his enormous brain, immediately and quietly puts his mind to unravelling the loose ends that are flapping all over Chloe’s murder.  DI Singh is on his first major murder case and wants to trust his instincts, but as promising leads vanish into the ether, he may be forced to ask the assistance of the irritating young Garvie – or risk losing his job.

The Usual Suspects:

There aren’t a great deal of suspects in this one.  There’s Chloe’s devastated ex-boyfriend Alex, who has dropped out of society and is now squatting in a drug house; a creepily inappropriate groundsman from Chloe’s school who seems to be nursing an unhealthy obsession with the young beauty; and an unknown boyfriend or admirer of Chloe, who may or may not drive a large black Porsche.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

This is where Running Girl really stands out from the pack.  The reader gets to follow both Garvie and DI Singh as they separately go about their investigative business.  Garvie struck me as a kind of Poirot-esque figure, who does a lot of sitting and thinking and remembering in order to pinpoint details that are out of place.  DI Singh is more methodical, following his gut instincts, but working with a team whose members aren’t all committed to going where their leader takes them.  There are red-herrings aplenty here, even when it seems like all the loose ends have been neatly tucked away.  I did have a hunch about who the perpetrator/s might be very early on, and while this hunch turned out to be correct, the hunt was so twisty and complex that I didn’t feel let down in the slightest – just pleased with the high quality writing.

Overall Rating:

poison clip artpoison clip artpoison clip artpoison clip artpoison clip art

Five poison bottles for the forlorn flap of a running shoe with a busted soul sole

I found this mystery to be pretty darn absorbing, despite the fact that I didn’t particularly like Garvie Smith.  From an adult’s perspective, he tends toward the “trumped up little git” category, so I was much more inclined to sympathise with the much-maligned DI Singh in wishing to deliver Garvie some mental slaps around the head.  Even though I didn’t find Garvie overly likeable, he still makes a deeply engaging main character and his blunt and brash manner nicely complements the introverted Singh.

I enjoyed the references to Singh’s practice of Sikhism, not only because it’s nice to see a bit of racial diversity in books at any time (oh, and did I mention Garvie’s mother is from Barbados?), but also because the references to the various prayers and rituals that Singh engaged in had me curious to find out more about the Sikh lifestyle and beliefs.

Because the perspective alternates between Garvie and Singh, the reader gets the best of both worlds, with some of the story leaning toward the amateur sleuth style of mystery, and some toward the police procedural style.  This went a long way to staving off any slackening of the pace and was a neat way to highlight some of the salient clues – even though Garvie always seems to be one step ahead in that regard.

If you’re looking for a tightly woven murder mystery rendered in quality narrative style that will really get your brain working, then may I recommend Running Girl to you in the strongest terms.  There are some indicators that this might be the beginning of a series – the grudging respect growing between Singh and Garvie being just one – which would be wonderful in my opinion.  I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled.

Now, as I mentioned before, I will be submitting this one for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check out my progress on that one here.

I’m also submitting it for my Title Fight Reading Challenge:

Title Fight Button 2016

I think Running Girl fits nicely under category four – a book with something you might find in a boxing gym in the title.

Until next time,




An Exotic, Memoirish Double-Dip Review…with a side order of Alphabet Soup


imageIt’s time to settle back with a fond-memory-inducing snack and enjoy today’s Double-Dip review that also features a side order of the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas.  We received both of today’s books from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Both are memoirs of sorts, one featuring multiple road-trips in pursuit of knitting utopia, the other featuring the wacky world of one Pakistani-Canadian Muslim film-maker.  And on that appetising note, let’s get stuck in, shall we?

First up we have Laughing All the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Zarqa Nawaz has always straddled two cultures. She’s just as likely to be agonizing over which sparkly earrings will “pimp out” her hijab as to be flirting with the Walmart meat manager in a futile attempt to secure halal chicken the day before Eid. Little Mosque on the Prairie brought Zarqa’s own laugh-out-loud take on her everyday culture clash to viewers around the world. And now, in Laughing All the Way to the Mosque, she tells the sometimes absurd, sometimes challenging, always funny stories of being Zarqa in a western society. From explaining to the plumber why the toilet must be within sitting arm’s reach of the water tap (hint: it involves a watering can and a Muslim obsession with cleanliness “down there”) to urging the electrician to place an eye-height electrical socket for her father-in-law’s epilepsy-inducing light-up picture of the Kaaba, Zarqa paints a hilarious portrait of growing up in a household where, according to her father, the Quran says it’s okay to eat at McDonald’s-but only if you order the McFish.  

laughing all the way to the mosqueDip into it for…

…a two-parts funny, one-part serious and one-part bizarre foray into the unfamiliar (to me!) world of Islam in the context of a Pakistani-Bengali-Canadian family.  I’m in two minds about this book because I assumed that, sitting, as I do, on the shelf of a pair of Catholics, there would be plenty of situations here that would feel like the familiar frustrations and giggle-worthy moments of those of us raised and immersed in institutionalised religion…but for most of the book I felt like I was reading something completely outside my experience.  Apart from the many humorous situations described, including the “cleanliness” section described in the blurb – who knew about THAT?! Muslims, I suppose – and Nawaz nonchalantly taking on the role of hostess for over one hundred family, friends and neighbours for a major religious holiday, there are also some quite serious issues discussed as well – such as how the author’s family dealt with a neighbour reporting her father-in-law to the authorities soon after 9/11 for having a “suspicious” shipping container in his front yard.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not prepared to embrace a story that flips from funny to unexpected to thought-provoking within a few pages.  If you are not a Muslim, and don’t know much about Islam, don’t dip if you aren’t prepared to discover rituals, theological points of contention and aspects of daily life that you never suspected existed.

Overall Dip Factor

While I did enjoy this book, I will admit to feeling an ever-present sense of slight discomfort while reading – mainly because it was during reading this book that I realised that while I thought I knew lots of “stuff” about Islam, I actually know VERY little about it.  I would certainly recommend this book as a fun, yet important, eye-opening reading experience about an ordinary family’s experience of their faith.   If there’s one thing I would have liked to hear more about though, it would be the TV series developed by Nawaz – Little Mosque on the Prairie.  How could this have gone for six seasons without me ever hearing about it? Bizarre.

Next, let us move on to Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World by Clara Parkes.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Knitting aficionado and notable artisan Clara Parkes delves into her storied travels with this inspiring and witty memoir on a creative life enriched by her adventures around the world.

Building on the success of The Yarn Whisperer, Parkes’s rich personal essays invite readers and devoted crafters on excursions to be savored, from a guide who quickly comes to feel like a trusted confidante. In Knitlandia, she takes readers along on 17 of her most memorable journeys across the globe over the last 15 years, with stories spanning from the fjords of Iceland to a cozy yarn shop in Paris’s 13th arrondissement.

Also known for her PBS television appearances and hugely popular line of small-batch handcrafted yarns, Parkes weaves her personal blend of wisdom and humor into this eloquently down-to-earth guide that is part personal travel narrative and part cultural history, touching the heart of what it means to live creatively. Join Parkes as she ventures to locales both foreign and familiar in chapters like:

Chasing a Legend in Taos
Glass, Grass, and the Power of Place: Tacoma, Washington
A Thing for Socks and a Very Big Plan: Portland, Oregon
Autumn on the Hudson: The New York Sheep & Wool Festival
Cashmere Dreams and British Breeds: A Last-Minute Visit to Edinburgh, Scotland

Fans of travel writing, as well as knitters, crocheters, designers, and fiber artists alike, will enjoy the masterful narrative in these intimate tales from a life well crafted. Whether you’ve committed to exploring your own wanderlust or are an armchair traveler curled up in your coziest slippers, Knitlandia is sure to inspire laughter, tears, and maybe some travel plans of your own.

I1342768.pdfDip into it for…

…a fairly self-indulgent lark around various knitting hotspots aimed at those who are deeply embedded in the US and International “Knitting Scene”.  The book is replete with vignettes of Parkes’ time in various places around the world, for reasons related to knitting conferences, teaching and general knitting-based travel.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a hardcore knitter.  Or if you cringe at name-dropping.  Or if you don’t want to read excessively wordy descriptions of various hotel foyers.  Or if you don’t particularly care about “famous” people in the knitting scene and Parkes’ deep and abiding friendships with them.

Overall Dip Factor

I was really hoping that this was going to be the perfect contender for a Utopirama post.  Knitting and travel – what else could one want in life? Well, plenty, if you don’t enjoy any of the factors I’ve just mentioned above.  While there were plenty of chapter headings to draw me in here, I found the writing overall to be such that it seemed to specifically aim to alienate readers who are not knowledgeable about the movers and shakers in the knitting and design world.  As a friend of a crocheter, I had very little knowledge, or indeed, interest, in Parkes’ name-dropping.  The first story relates how Parkes came to know a particularly well-known (to everyone but me apparently) hand-spinner and dyer, which I would have found interesting if Parkes hadn’t insisted on ramming home HOW famous and HOW selective this lady was with her friendships.  There was a section on a trip to Iceland that was reasonably interesting, but I suspect this is because Iceland is an interesting place, not because Parkes’ writing made it so.  **On a side note, in this section, Parkes mentions two Australian co-travellers who she reckons say “Perth” like “Pith”.  This nearly had me throwing my kindle at the wall.  Australians would not say “Pith”. Ever.  The vowel sound in “Perth” is a diphthong and therefore it would be ridiculous for anyone to use a short vowel in the word.  I could have handled it if she said they pronounced it “Peer-th”, even though that would be closer to a Kiwi pronunciation, but not “Pith”.  Being a linguist, I feel like I’ve got the knowledge to pull Parkes up on this oneAnd if you have been slightly irritated by my digression into minutesubject-specific analysis and assertions that I know more stuff than you about linguistics, then you’ve probably just developed a good sense of what I was feeling while reading this book.** Despite my early misgivings, I soldiered on and was unimpressed to discover that the name-dropping and self-indulgent “I’m more into the knitting scene than you” tone continued.  Shame really.  Approach with caution.

As I mentioned before, I am submitting both of these books for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

If you want to see my progress so far in this challenge, click here.

Until next time,






Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Words and Pictures…and a Top Book of 2016!


imageIt’s our very first round-up of the year so I thought I’d go easy on you all and bring you one wordy book and two picture books.  We received print copies of all these delightful reads from Allen & Unwin and Bloomsbury for review.  Lassos at the ready? Let’s ride on in!

First up, from the master of linguistic gymnastics, David Astle, we have Wordburger: How to Be a Champion Puzzler in 20 Quick Bites.


Ten Second Synopsis:

A kid-friendly guide to becoming a wordsmith, covering everything from homophones to palindromes and pretty much everything in between.

Muster up the motivation because:

This book will give you at least some of the skills required to prove you’re the smartest attendee at your next dinner party, even if it is aimed at kids.  The book is divided into sections, each dealing with a different peculiarity of the English language, for your learning pleasure. The sections also include some activities and mini-puzzles to get your brain working as you read. This is definitely not suited for reading aloud, and for the section on homophones, even reading it in your head to yourself comes with a severe risk of brain implosion.  I would recommend this one as the type of book you dip into when the fancy takes you because I found that trying to read the sections consecutively nearly brought on word-related psychosis.  On the plus side, when Letters and Numbers comes back to our screens (come on SBS!) I will now have some extra fact-based barbed prongs in my arsenal, instead of just an inflated sense of my own linguistic expertise.

Brand it with:

Hardcore linguists only need apply; tongue-twister-ific; cryptic captaincy

Next up, a biographical picture book and one of my picks for Top Books of 2016: Elephant Man by Mariangela Di Fiore, illustrated by Hilde Hodnefjeld and translated by Rosie Hedger.

elephant manTen Second Synopsis:

At the age of just a few years, Joseph Merrick begins to develop strange growths on his body and face that will lead to his being known as the “Elephant Man”.   Is there a way that people can look past his appearance and see Joseph for what he really is?

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a fascinating biography, sensitively told, that will pique the interests of the children that the book is aimed at, as well as the adults who read it to, and with, them.  The illustrations are a combination of drawn artworks and collage, featuring actual photographs of some of the main characters, and some of Joseph’s possessions, including a handwritten letter and a cardboard model of a cathedral.  Joseph’s life story is engaging and the tone of the text conveys the yearning that Joseph has to be treated like a human being.  An informative afterword is included that will definitely generate conversation – I for one want to know if Joseph left his skeleton to science and how it came to be on display at the Royal London Hospital museum – and all up, this book feels like a quality piece of work for middle to upper primary school kids.  I would have loved to have seen this work pushed out a little into a narrative nonfiction, middle grade chapter book offering as I think Joseph’s story could really pique the interest of independent readers in that age group (as well as adult readers of middle grade!).  Highly recommended.

Brand it with:

Bruce's Pick

Judging books by covers, facing up to diversity, forging friendships

And from the heartfelt to the zany, we have Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat by Emily MacKenzie…

stanley the catTen Second Synopsis:

Stanley is a committed, generous individual who knits accessories for all his friends.  But when he discovers the Woolly Wonders competition, his new creation may put a few noses (and tails) out of joint.

Muster up the motivation because:

It is well known that we here at the shelf are big fans of textile crafters and some of Stanley’s creations made us quite desirous to own such a piece (the bunny balaclavas particularly).  This picture book is a riot of colour and zany antics and little ones will be drawn to the busy page spreads.  We especially enjoyed one of the final pages in the book, the illustration on which required us to turn the book longways.  We were quite surprised to discover that Stanley’s solution to a lack of yarn for his competition entry was to unravel all the lovely gifts he had made for his friends – we’re not sure we can forgive him for that – but his final product for the competition is a gasp-worthy sight and one that will have the youngsters cheering for our knitting hero.  In fact, the tableful of knitted wonders had Mad Martha sneaking off to see when the textile competition specs for the Ekka and Pine Rivers Show go up – Stanley’s passion for creating epically yarn-tastic creations has rubbed off!

Brand it with:

felines in textiles, fashion accessory design, aeronautical uses of yarn

Thanks again to Allen & Unwin and Bloomsbury for providing the review copies.  I hope you’ve now roped at least one of these books onto your TBR list!

I am also submitting Wordburger and Elephant Man for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check out my progress for the challenge here.

Until next time,










Title Fight Reading Challenge: Of Better Blood…


Title Fight Button 2016

So today I present my first KO in the Title Fight Reading Challenge 2016 (which I happen to be hosting), with a historical middle grade fiction novel about eugenics and what it means to be different.  I received a copy of Of Better Blood by Susan Moger from the publisher via Netgalley and I will be submitting it in category five of the Title Fight Challenge: a book with an injury (or something implying an injury) in the title.  I think “blood” fits quite nicely there, don’t you?

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Teenage polio survivor Rowan Collier is caught in the crossfire of a secret war against “the unfit.” It’s 1922, and eugenics–the movement dedicated to racial purity and good breeding–has taken hold in America. State laws allow institutions to sterilize minorities, the “feeble-minded,” and the poor, while local eugenics councils set up exhibits at county fairs with “fitter family” contests and propaganda. After years of being confined to hospitals, Rowan is recruited at sixteen to play a born cripple in a county fair eugenics exhibit. But gutsy, outspoken Dorchy befriends Rowan and helps her realize her own inner strength and bravery. The two escape the fair and end up at a summer camp on a desolate island run by the New England Eugenics Council. There they discover something is happening to the children. Rowan must find a way to stop the horrors on the island if she can escape them herself.

of better blood

What an interesting mash-up of genres and issues this story is!  What begins as the story of a young girl overcoming disability, family bigotry and exploitation morphs into a ripping murder-mystery, fight-for-survival-on-an-isolated-island, survivor type tale.  I thoroughly enjoyed this tale (although the end third of the book was by far the most exciting), because it seemed to cover all the bits and pieces that I like to see in middle grade fiction.

Rowan starts off as a privileged white girl from a rich family that has a vested interest in the eugenics movement.  When Rowan develops polio and loses the use of one of her legs, not only does she have to overcome pain and isolation, but also silence from her father who seems to have abandoned her in her “weakness”.  This early part of the story flicks between Rowan’s present-day travails – in which she is forced to play “Ruthie”, the crippled simpleton daughter, in a travelling carnival show that touts the ideals of the benefits of eugenics – and her life before.  We are privy to the abrupt change in affections of Rowan’s father toward her, and the parade of medical professionals – some sympathetic to her plight, some not – to whom Rowan is subjected during her recovery.

During her time in the Fitter Families show, Rowan meets Dorchy, a rowdy, independent girl from a carnival family, and this friendship drives the rest of the novel.  The relationship building here is done sensitively and will really appeal to female readers of the target age group.  Though the girls come from different socioeconomic backgrounds (as will become apparent later in the book), they are possessed of a similar undaunted spirit and the desire to make their own ways in the world.

I certainly wasn’t expecting the action-packed turn that the last third of the book would take (despite the fact that it’s flagged in the blurb), but it drew me in completely and I desperately wanted to know how it was all going to end up.  Two young girls alone on an island with a bunch of orphan kids, some reclusive caretakers, a very rich woman and her daughter and a doctor at the “cutting edge” of eugenics technology? What could possibly go wrong?!

This section of the story really brings home the point that the author is trying to make about this period in history and the dangerous attitudes that can be fostered when we try to place labels on those we think are unfit or unhelpful to society.  Lovers of historical fiction will enjoy the period details here, while general readers of middle grade will appreciate the pacey plot and the continuous changes in the girls’ situations.

So for a first bout, this one certainly came out in my favour!  If you’d like to know more about the Title Fight Reading Challenge (and sign up!) just click here.  I’m also submitting this book for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenged hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check out my progress for that challenge here, if you’re interested.

Until next time,


Bruce’s Shelfies: The Infinity Dreams Award Tag


imageI bring you an unscheduled Shelfie today, because I have been nominated by Xxertz for the …

infinity dreams awardThanks!  Now I don’t usually do these anymore because they can get a bit repetitive but I’ll make a slight exception just this once.  So the rules for this award are…

  1. Thank and follow the blog that nominated you
  2. Tell us 11 facts about yourself
  3. Answer the questions that were set for you to answer
  4. Nominate 11 bloggers and set questions for them
So, number one is already done.  Number two….pass. Number three I will indulge in otherwise this would be a very short post.  Here are the questions that were set:
What is the first book (or series) you fell in love with?
I honestly can’t remember.  Although over the years I’ve been a big fan of Enid Blyton’s works, the Chronicles of Narnia and Choose Your Own Adventure books.
Has your favourite genre changed over the years (please share!)?
No.  Although I read a lot more nonfiction and contemporary these days than I ever did in the past.
Okay,  be honest, how many book boyfriends/girlfriends do you have?
This is a strange human concept that I find utterly bewildering.
What about book enemies?
Spot of lift the flap, children’s book fame.
What are your drinks of choice (alcoholic, cold, and hot please)?
I don’t really drink alcohol.  Water.  Tea (milky, no sugar).
I’m dying to know – what is your favourite TV show?
The Chase (UK or Australia, doesn’t really bother me), Bargain Hunt, Escape to the Country, Would I Lie To You? 
If my life depended on reading a really good book, what book would you recommend?
I would recommend finding a competent health professional.
 Which three popular books do you not understand what all of the hype is about?
Most YA bestsellers.
What is your favourite game to play (can be card, board, electronic, etc.)?
Snap, Twister, The Elder Scrolls.  Preferably simultaneously.
What is the last book to have made you cry?
I lack tear ducts.  Next question.
What is the last book to have made you laugh out loud, despite being in a public place?
Lockwood and Co: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud.
I hope that was enlightening!  Now, number four….nominating eleven people seems a bit excessive, so I will just throw out a general invitation to anyone who wants to do it.
Until next time,

Yarning with Mad Martha: Lockwood & Co (The Whispering Skull) …plus Make Your Own Desktop Skull-in-a-Jar!


yarning with mad martha_Fotor (2)Welcome to another spot of yarning with me – Mad Martha!  Bruce has asked me to share with you our thoughts on the second book in the Lockwood & Co YA paranormal series by Jonathan Stroud – The Whispering Skull – as we have just managed to stab it with our grappling hook and haul ourselves over it in our climb up the Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2016 (hosted by My Reader’s Block).  Click on the image for more information on this wonderful challenge:

Mount TBR 2016

As I’m controlling the blog today, you know there will be some DIY crafty component to the review and at the end of this post I will leave you some instructions on how to create your own skull-in-a-jar shelfmate:

   bruce and skull_Fotor

I will, however, make no guarantees as to the likelihood or otherwise of your little skull whispering to you.  Although Bruce looks hopeful.

But let’s not let this bony little cutie-pie steal the show! Without further ado, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In the six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England, Lockwood & Co. hasn’t made much progress. Quill Kipps and his team of Fittes agents keep swooping in on Lockwood’s investigations. Finally, in a fit of anger, Anthony challenges his rival to a contest: the next time the two agencies compete on a job, the losing side will have to admit defeat in the Times newspaper.

Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the excavation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead. Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well-until George’s curiosity attracts a horrible phantom.

Back home at Portland Row, Lockwood accuses George of making too many careless mistakes. Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in the ghost jar. Then the team is summoned to DEPRAC headquarters. Kipps is there too, much to Lockwood’s annoyance. Bickerstaff’s coffin was raided and a strange glass object buried with the corpse has vanished. Inspector Barnes believes the relic to be highly dangerous, and he wants it found.

lockwood and co

It has been far too long between paranormal drinks for we shelf denizens and this series.  We loved the first book, The Screaming Staircase , and have kept the other two books in the series in our back pockets, so to speak, for those moments when we need a sure-fire ripper read.  Once the Mount TBR Challenge came along though, we decided to take the plunge and get into the second book to ensure we don’t get left too far behind as more books are released.

This one picks up pretty well immediately after the first leaves off, with Lucy, George and Lockwood drawn into an investigation featuring a dangerous relic made by members of Victorian high society who had a penchant for trying to communicate with the dead.  The banter between Lucy and George makes a welcome return and very early on it’s obvious that relationships between our three heroes will become strained as the stakes of the investigation – and the body count – gets higher. There is the added problem of the ever-present and ever-irritating Fittes agents, led by pompous Quill Kipps, who are competing with Lockwood & Co to solve the mystery and win the acclaim (and payment).

We were tantalised with the whisperings of the titular skull in the first book and this second instalment gives the trio some new insights into who the skull might have been.  Lucy knows however, that there is something not-quite-right about the skull’s sudden turn toward verbosity (apart from the obvious lack of vocal chords on a skull), yet struggles to get Lockwood to see the light.  We are left hanging again at the end of this instalment, with some questions answered about the skull, but some intriguing threads left loose.

I didn’t find this book quite as terrifying as the first in the series, but there are definitely some hairy scenes where it’s touch and go for the main characters.  Stroud seems to have a knack for stringing out the action, allowing the pace to slow before ramping things up in alarming fashion.  There were also a few niggling bits that Bruce and I found a bit off about the plot – one or two plot points that seem pretty obvious early on (and turn out as expected) but are missed, improbably, by the main characters.  That aside, this is certainly a worthy addition to the series and we are all now looking forward to The Hollow Boy, when we get around to it.

Now on to the craft!  I am certain that all fans of this series (and some who aren’t) will be itching to get their paws on a little skeletal companion so here are some instructions for how to whip up your own Whispering Skull*!

*Whispering not guaranteed*

skull and book_FotorYou will need:

*a jar (with or without lid)

*a small amount of white yarn (we used acrylic)

*a small amount of black yarn
*a small amount of grey or brown yarn
*a yarn needle
*a small amount of stuffing
*a size 3.5 mm crochet hook
*green cellophane
*sticky tape
The Skull 
I decided not to reinvent the wheel and used this pattern by NerdyCrochetGal to create a mini skull.  It turned out to be the perfect size and something that could be whipped up super-quick.  I used grey yarn to crochet two little circles for the eyes, a triangle for the nose and just did some satin stitches for the mouth.  Unfortunately I made the nose hole too big, and the eyes too small, so my skull has a slightly odd expression – but there you are.  You can learn from my mistake.
The Jar
Here’s where you’ll need the cellophane and tape.  The skull in the book is described as having a green plasma that whirls around it now and again, so I used green cellophane to tint my jar the correct colour.  Wrap some cellophane around the outside of your jar to measure how much you will need.  Cut this section of cellophane out and tape it to the inside of your jar.  Place your skull inside the jar.
The Lid
If your jar has a lid already, you can decide whether you want to do this part.  My jar was lidless, so I crocheted a circle wide enough to cover the opening (in double crochet stitches) and then repeated the number of stitches in the final round 4 times (using single crochet stitches) to create an overhang.  Then I stretched my faux lid over the top of the jar.  Finished!  Even if your jar has a lid, you could crochet a little cosy over the top using the same method.
skull and book two_Fotor
Now your little bony friend is ready to adorn your desk, shelf or other home- or office-based niche. Enjoy!
If you haven’t discovered the Lockwood & Co series yet, we shelf denizens highly recommend taking a look at it.
Cheerio my dears,
Mad Martha