Double-Dip Review Week #2: Picture Books for the Curious and Subversive…


imageI’m assuming everyone has slept off Wednesday’s double serving of awesome middle grade fiction (and giveaway!) and you’re ready for the second course in this week-long bookish buffet.  Today we are focusing on picture books and the two I have for you today are sure to excite if you are the question-asking, rule-bending, interactive-book-loving type.

Let us begin! First up, I have an eye-popping beauty of a book from AUSSIE author and illustrator Kyle Hughes-Odgers.  Can A Skeleton Have an X-Ray? was provided to us for review from Fremantle Press.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

What spins the Earth? Do colors smell? Why is water wet? Where do dreams go? Renowned artist Kyle Hughes-Odgers brings his own unique vision to these and many other questions, from the practical to the philosophical.

Dip into it for…

skeleton xray…a head-scratching, smile-inducing jaunt through a jungle of curious questions, accompanied by stunning, quirky illustrations that wouldn’t look out of place in an art gallery (which makes sense, given that the author is also an accomplished visual artist).  I barely got past the cover before I got sucked into trying to answer some of the unexpected questions in the book. (Can a skeleton have an x-ray? Yes, I suspect, but it would probably be a fruitless exercise…maybe…unless you’re doing some kind of forensic testing…what? Oh, there’s more past the cover! *turns page eagerly*).  Some of the questions are quite funny – what do ghosts do all day, for instance – whereas some really did have me realising how little I know about how important things work…like “who gives the internet its powers?”  Seems like a pretty important question if you ask me!

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for a book with easy answers!  Each page in the book presents a new question, accompanied by an illustration that will prompt the imaginations of kids and adults alike.  If you’re looking for serious answers to these questions, I suggest you consult the non-fiction section.

Overall Dip Factor

I can see this being the perfect tool to generate discussion in the classroom right before a creative, problem-solving or investigative assignment is unleashed.  I loathe to use the word “whimsical” because I feel it is so overused as to be cliched, but there is a definite sense of whimsy in some of the illustrations, coupled with something more akin to the complexity found in Shaun Tan’s works – it’s that atmosphere generated by the effective coupling of simple text with illustrations that beg to be explored beyond a first glance.  My favourite illustration is from the “who builds the wings for birds to fly?” page:

birdhouse manIn fact, I liked it so much I was tempted to carefully remove it from the book and stick it in a frame on the wall…but luckily I don’t have to do that, because I’ve just learned that Kyle Hughes-Odgers is releasing a colouring book in December featuring some of the images from Can a Skeleton Have an X-Ray? !  It’s called Off the Wall and you can check it out at Fremantle Press.

Now, on to the subversive!  Our second offering is Please, Open This Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt and Matthew Forsythe, provided for review by Simon & Schuster Australia, and the sequel to the highly acclaimed Warning! Do Not Open This Book! from 2013.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Books are made to be opened. Especially this one. But, guess what…

Someone closed this book! Who would do that?

Luckily, you can fix this. All you need to do is open it. You can do that. Can’t you?

We need your help!

Please, Open This Book!

They warned you, but you just couldn’t listen–now, the creators of Warning: Do Not Open This Book! are back with their zany monkey crew, and they need your help!

In Warning, Do Not Open This Book!, which School Library Journal called “more fun than a barrel of monkeys,” turning pages meant increased chaos and delight. Now the tables have turned, and opening the book is the only way to save the desperate group of monkeys trapped between its pages. This irresistibly entertaining rescue effort puts power in the hands of the page-turner, and giggles into everyone!

Dip into it for… please open this book

…zany monkey shenanigans and a book that gives you the freedom to use your book-closing powers for good OR evil! The cheeky, distressed faces of the monkeys are a highlight of this one, as they exhort, beg and reason with the reader first to open the book and then subsequently,to stop turning the pages.  Similarly, the consequences given when pages keep being turned will generate a giggle – although I had to agree with the characters about the banana; I was as sad as they were to see a superfruit being treated in such an alarmingly cavalier manner.  It’s all about the interaction with this one and I suspect young readers will love arguing with the characters here before resolutely turning the page (which will bring only doom, as the monkey doomsayers predict!).

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of monkeys.  I’m mildly distressed by monkeys generally and there are a number of species here with their bulging eyes and awkward limbs and lice (presumably).  In all honestly though, there’s not much to dislike here..except the fact that parents will no doubt be asked to read it ad nauseam at bedtimes, rest times and all other times.

Having said that, it does pay to be careful if you’re inexperienced at this sort of book-reading.  Even the best of us can get caught out with such dangerous content, as Mad Martha and I discovered:


Thankfully the family dog passed by not soon after and knocked the book to the ground with her waggy tail, inadvertently setting us free.  Not sure what we would have done otherwise, except maybe take up a “Help” sign and douse ourselves with lice-killing shampoo.

Overall Dip Factor

Please, Open This Book! is going to be an instant hit, I suspect, as much for the interactive nature of the story as for the cheeky, giggle-inducing antics of the characters.  The black pages and brightly coloured monkeys will catch the eye immediately and there’s a fun little twist on the last page and beyond that will delight mini-fleshlings, especially if they’re tackling this one on their own.  If you enjoyed such similarly interactive books as Viviane Schwarz’s There Are Cats in This Book and its sequels, or the adventures of Mo Willem’s Pigeon, then you’ll find much fun to be had when you open Please, Open This Book! after heeding the mute, banner-laden exhortations from the monkeys on the cover.

Well, that’s our second helping done and dusted!  Stay tuned on Monday for some easy-to-digest short story collections for fleshlings both mini and grown.

Until next time,




A Week of Double-Dip Reviews…starting with Middle Grade Fiction (and a Giveaway)!


imageWell I hope you haven’t been filling up on lots of nutritional reading recently, because the shelf denizens and I have a whole WEEK’S worth of Double-Dip reviews to satiate your cravings.  Today we will be looking at two new release, middle grade, illustrated chapter books (and will have a giveaway to boot!), then on Friday we’ll move on to some delightfully subversive picture books, followed by short story collections on Monday, and rounding out the smorgasbord with adult fantasy fiction this time next week.

Excited? Hungry for good reading experiences? Then let’s get to it!

(You’re wondering about the giveaway, aren’t you?  Just read on and it will all become clear!)

First up we have Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye by Tania Del Rio and Will Staehle, which we received from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Meet Warren the 13th, a cursed 12-year-old Victorian bellhop who’s terribly unlucky . . . yet perpetually optimistic, hard-working, and curious. Orphan Warren’s pride and joy is his family’s hotel, but he’s been miserable ever since his evil Aunt Anaconda took over the management. Anaconda believes a mysterious treasure known as the All-Seeing Eye is hidden somewhere on the grounds, and she’ll do anything to find it. If Warren wants to preserve his family’s legacy, he’ll need to find the treasure first—if the hotel’s many strange and wacky guests don’t beat him to it! This middle-grade adventure features gorgeous two-color illustrations on every page and a lavish two-column Victorian design that will pull young readers into a spooky and delightful mystery.

Dip into it for…

warren…an unexpectedly charming main character, a hotel full of adventure and some serious double-crossing.  The book is also illustrated which adds atmosphere to the kookiness of Warren’s hotel.  This is a book for the sleuths and problem-solvers, who will delight in uncovering Warren’s family secrets along with the protagonists and peeling back the layers of a very mysterious quest.  Those who resonate with a downtrodden main character will alternately shake fists at the machinations and rejoice at the foiling of nasty Aunt Anaconda, who is hiding more than just a severe dislike for Warren.  My favourite character was Sketchy – I won’t spoil it for you, but Sketchy is a character that you would certainly not expect to find in the basement of a reputable establishment.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a straightforward mystery.  This book is replete with twists, turns, characters hiding their true colours and a plethora of family secrets that will keep the reader guessing throughout.

Overall Dip Factor

Warren the 13th proves the idea that you don’t have to be pretty to be a hero.  While the concept of the story is one we’ve seen many times before, the execution is original and kids who enjoy quirky characters and unexpected plot twists will want to jump in right alongside Warren as he hunts down the All-Seeing Eye – whatever it happens to be.

Now onto a new release AUSSIE early chapter book, Bella and the Wandering House by Meg McKinlay, a copy of which was kindly provided to us by Fremantle Press.  The self-same copy will be available for you to WIN, provided you keep reading to find out how to enter the giveaway.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Bella is very surprised one morning to discover her house has moved in the night – not a lot, just a little. Her parents are too busy to notice, but even they can’t pretend it’s not happening when they wake up to find their house on the banks of a lake. Night after night the house moves and the family wakes to a new location. Unless Bella can solve the mystery, who knows where they’ll end up?

Dip into it for…bella and the wandering house

…a charming and memorable little tale that holds at its heart themes of grief, loss and the bonds between generations.  Unmentioned in the blurb, strangely, is the relationship between Bella and her grandfather, which features largely throughout the whole story and ultimately feeds into the satisfying resolution of the wandering house problem.  McKinlay has a delightful way with words and I couldn’t help but giggle at the description of the house’s long, skinny legs – helped along by the gangly, awkward image in one of the illustrations.  For some reason, I expected a walking house to have either a stout pair of clomping feet or chicken legs, but I enjoyed the choice of lower limb here.  I also loved how determined Bella’s parents were to get to work every day, despite where the house ended up – surely most true-blue Aussies would take a wandering house as an excuse to bludge off work, but not these two!

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after an action-packed adventure story or something to do with magic and mystery.  This is a gentle story, simply told and while the house’s movements are quite amusing, it is also obvious that there is an underlying restlessness driving the plot that is reflected in the worries of the characters.

Overall Dip Factor

Bella and the Wandering House is a heartwarming story that is more complex than it appears.  While young readers will enjoy the fun of having a walking house, adult readers will appreciate the subtle themes about the importance of choice when recovering from difficult circumstances.  Reminiscent of the work of that other Aussie kidlit genius, Glenda Millard, and the mix of adventure and focus on relationships found in Eva Ibbotson’s books, Bella and the Wandering House would make a great pre-bedtime serial read for grown-ups and their mini-fleshlings, or a quick, satisfying read for independent readers who like contemporary stories with a twist of magical realism.  It would also be the perfect stocking stuffer for adult readers dreaming of a seachange!

Giveaway Time!

One of you lucky readers will receive my copy of Bella and the Wandering House – thanks to Fremantle Press for providing the copy!  The giveaway is open internationally and will be open from the moment this post goes live (NOW!) until midnight on Friday the 4th of December, 2015 (Brisbane time!).

To enter, simply comment on this post and answer this question: “What important thing of yours has gone wandering at an inopportune moment?”

One winner from the applicable comments will be chosen by a random number generator, and will have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a new winner is selected.

Good luck!

I hope this bite-sized snack of middle grade fiction has whet your appetite for more Double-Dip reviews! Stay tuned for double the literary goodness this week.

Until next time,



Fiction in 50 November Challenge!



Welcome to the November edition of Fiction in 50, where the brave and the foolish attempt to create a readable narrative in fewer than 51 words.  This month our prompt is…

an unexpected arrival button

To join in, create a piece of fiction or poetry within the word limit, post it somewhere, and then pop your link in the comments of this post.  For more information and a list of past and future prompts, just click the challenge image at the top of this post.

Here’s my effort for this month.  I have titled it…

“As Blessings from God”

Another boy. Of course it was. Number seven.

She’d prayed for a girl; an ally in the fog of masculinity.

In her disappointment, she planned. Nappies and bathing were her responsibility alone. Her husband, sons, would never know.

Yes. She would do it.

This one would be her little girl.

Can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with!  Remember to share the challenge with anyone who might be interested and if you are sharing on Twitter, don’t forget to use the hashtag #Fi50.

For those who like to be prepared, next month’s prompt (the last for the year!) is…

venturing forth button

Until next time,



Shouty Doris Interjects during…The Casquette Girls!


Shouty Doris interjectsShouty Doris and I would like to welcome you to another tag-team review, this time for a three-quarters intriguing, one-quarter dragging new release YA novel.  We received The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden from the publisher via Netgalley.  It’s a book that nearly made my Top Books of 2015 list for originality and a cracking tale, but by the end, I opted to leave it off the TB2015 and just recommend it to you as an exciting story with familiar themes but some quite intriguing ways of expressing them.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Seven girls tied by time.
Five powers that bind.
One curse to lock the horror away.
One attic to keep the monsters at bay.

After the storm of the century rips apart New Orleans, sixteen-year-old Adele Le Moyne wants nothing more than her now silent city to return to normal. But with home resembling a war zone, a parish-wide curfew, and mysterious new faces lurking in the abandoned French Quarter, normal needs a new definition.

As the city murder rate soars, Adele finds herself tangled in a web of magic that weaves back to her own ancestors. Caught in a hurricane of myths and monsters, who can she trust when everyone has a secret and keeping them can mean life or death? Unless . . . you’re immortal.

casquette girlsI was initially drawn to this title because of its setting in “Post-Storm” New Orleans.  The catastrophic event that was Hurricane Katrina is as mesmerising as it is heartbreaking.  It appears that publishers have decided that the “too-soon” period has passed, as there seem to be a number of YA titles around at the moment that are set in New Orleans in the close aftermath of the hurricane.  The added bonus of a magic curse or family secret alluded to in the blurb just sweetened the deal and for the first few chapters I was riveted by Adele’s cautious return to the remnants of her hometown.

Shouty Doris interjects

Riveted, were you? 

Not at all concerned about this young woman’s safety then!  What kind of person would bring their 16 year old daughter into a lawless, foodless, shelter-less disaster zone,  just because the girl begs to return? Shocking parenting, if you ask me. 

Well, yes, I will admit to a little bit of disbelief at the apparent lunacy of returning to a place with no electricity, scarce food, hardly any security, no school and a primary place of residence that any ordinary person would consider to be structurally unsound.  But I pushed past this minor quibble and got caught up in the weird goings-on that materialise around Adele – there’s a bird attack, a very creepy incident with an old convent…and the fact that corpses keep turning up in non-Storm-related circumstances.  Just as I was getting into the story however, one of my pet peeves turned up: unnecessary romance.Shouty Doris interjects

I didn’t mind at all when those handsome young lads turned up.  Lovely European manners, too!

Now come on Doris,  you knew they were going to be trouble as soon as they appeared.

Shouty Doris interjectsWell, boys will be boys now, won’t they?

Well, as it turns out, boys will be…..actually that would be a major spoiler.  Essentially, a number of handsome (of course – why can’t they just be ordinary looking?) young men turn up to vye for Adele’s attention and apart from fulfilling some major plot points, generally end up slowing everything down as we are subjected to your typical swooning girl/smarmy-but-drop-dead-gorgeous-older guy/disgruntled-initial-suitor-who-would-be-a-much-better-fit-for-the-female-protagonist-but-has-temper-issues attraction triangle.  Bummer. 

Just as I thought the magic/paranormal part of the story would start rolling along, we are introduced to the diary of  Adeline Saint-Germaine – a young French girl who has some unspecified connection to Adele and the odd circumstances surrounding her return to New Orleans.  Cue historical fiction interludes!  I quite enjoyed this unexpected jaunt into the strangely similar events of a couple of centuries pre-Adele, but again, after a while I felt that these sections also slowed the pace of the book and made it seem much longer than it needed to be.

Shouty Doris interjectsDon’t forget all the French.  It’s je suis this, and croissant that all the way through.  It’s a wonder I could make out any of the story at all!  Honestly, the book should have come with a cautionary sticker: Only attempt this book if you have studied French at tertiary level.

Hmmm. Yes.  I agree there is quite a bit of French language scattered throughout – appropriately enough, given the story’s setting and the fact that Adeline Saint-Germaine and her cohorts are French – but this may be a bit annoying if you are reading the book in print format.  Luckily, I was reading on the Kindle so the translation function got a good workout.

French aside, by the halfway mark in the book there are a number of parallel storylines playing out with plenty of secrets left to be uncovered.  By this stage I was still certain that this would end up being one of my Top Books of 2015, but by two thirds of the way through, it just…

I just…

Shouty Doris interjectsSpit it out. While we’re young. Or some of us, anyway.

That’s just it!  By two thirds of the way through, I wanted the book to be over.  I was ready for the action-packed climax, wherein all the twisty turns were explained and Adele and her friends set themselves to the task of ridding their fair city of the curse that plagues it.  Instead, I got more drawn-out interludes between Adele and both lots of handsome young men that seemed hardly believable, given the fact that the one she likes most is….dangerous.

Shouty Doris interjectsI agree.  Despite ol’ Mr Handsome-Pants’ suave European romancing, I think young Adele is far too intelligent to fall for his life-threatening charms.  But then again, the authors these days have to put SOMETHING in to keep the young ladies reading books instead of shutting themselves away on the Tweeter all day.  A bit of descriptive courting is sure to draw them in.

*muffled giggling from the younger shelf-denizens*

My dislike of romance (especially gratuitous romance) is well known and the amount of simply unbelievable romance bits in this book really brought my enjoyment level down by the end.  I can’t help but thinking if a lot of these sections were more tightly edited, the pace of the book would have benefitted immensely.

On the whole though, this is a complex tale with action, magic, paranormal elements, historical fiction and some standard contemporary-teen problems, all wrapped up in a highly engaging setting and brought to life with the help of some extremely colourful characters, almost all of whom are not who they appear to be.  Despite my decision to ultimately not add this to my TB2015 list, it’s still a cracking and fascinating read that will keep you hooked – provided you don’t mind a bit of teenaged mooning over handsome Europeans.

Shouty Doris interjects

Don’t forget the doe-eyes.  Or the illegal hooch. 

Which reminds me, it’s time for my afternoon snifter. 

It’s ten in the morning, Doris.

Shouty Doris interjectsIf anyone wants me, I’ll be in the drawing room.

That’s the door to the bathroom, Doris.  Doris?

Until next time,




Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Scaling Mt TBR in Graphic Novels…and a TOP BOOK OF 2015!



I’ve been circling these four titles for months now and finally, FINALLY I’ve been able to round them up and drag them off my TBR stack! And as it turns out, one of them ended up being a TOP BOOK OF 2015 pick.  Bonus!

So today I’ve got two graphic novels, one graphic biography and one fully illustrated early-reader type novel.  Two I purchased aeons ago, one I was lucky enough to receive in a goodie bag from my recent HarperCollins BTCYA event and one I received unexpectedly from the publisher via Netgalley.  Let’s saddle up and ride on in!

Nimona (Noelle Stevenson)

Two Sentence Synopsis: nimona

Ballister Blackheart, reluctant villain and archnemesis to Sir Goldenloin has his cosy life interrupted by the unexpected arrival of a young, shape shifting sidekick, Nimona.  As if maintaining reluctant villainy and working to subvert the sinister Institution weren’t trying enough, Ballister now has to deal with a kill-happy teen monster busting down his doors and working outside the rules.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is one of my TOP BOOKS OF 2015, that’s why!  It’s not often that I become absorbed in the plot of a graphic novel, or feel particularly connected to the characters, but reading Nimona felt much like dipping into a complex, twisty novel, except with lots of pictures.  The characters are fleshed out and we’re given wibbly-wobbly glimpses (by way of flashbacks!) into their histories to provide some hint as to motivations and hidden connections.  Nimona is the quintessential, risk-taking teen (or is she?!) and the early scenes between her and Blackheart are laugh-out-loud material.  If that weren’t enough, there are dragons, explosions, hapless minions, fake limbs, poison apples and questions about what Sir Goldenloin keeps down his codpiece to keep it looking so…healthy.  Nimona is the full package – an exciting story with interesting characters, presented in an eye-catching format and topped off with humour and feels.  Yes, I said feels.  If you only read one YA graphic novel this year, make it this one.

Brand it with:

Haters gonna hate; big-hearted villains, fun with flame-throwing

Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven (Brandon Easton/Denis Medri)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis: andre the giant

From his childhood on the family farm to hitting the big time in the wrestling world, this book charts the life story of Andre Roussimoff.  Focusing mostly on his time as a famous wrestler, the book gives an insight into the man behind the legend.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s like the author saw The Simpson’s joke about Troy McClure’s appearance in the celebrity funeral “Andre the Giant, We Hardly Knew Ye” and decided to right that wrong. If you have any interest at all in Andre the Giant either as a wrestler or a film star, this book will provide plenty of information that is a surprise to you.  The book starts out with Andre’s idyllic childhood in France on his family’s farm – the only time he ever felt “normal” – and progresses through the ups and downs of his wrestling career to the end of his life. His vices aren’t shied away from, and even though my interest in the man came more from his movie appearances, I found it quite interesting to see the world behind the action and showboating of professional wrestling.  Seeing Andre’s struggles with acromegaly, especially toward the end of his life, was quite moving – particularly as he was still wrestling despite being almost unable to move for long periods of time.  This might well be a niche read, being as it is a graphic format and a biography, but I quickly became drawn in to the interesting story behind the “giant” we all know and love.

Brand it with:

Bigger than Ben Hur, Let’s get ready to rumble, Hulk Hogan’s a big girl’s blouse

Salt Water Taffy #3: The Truth About Dr True (Matthew Loux)

Two Sentence Synopsis: salt water taffy

In this third outing for Jack and Benny, forced to spend their summer holiday in tiny Chowder Bay, Maine, the boys stumble across an old bottle and with it, a murder mystery that cuts to the heart of the town.  But will they solve the mystery before the townsfolk do something they’ll regret?

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a fun, quick read for middle graders who like a bit of mystery and adventure in an easy-to-digest package.  I hadn’t read the two prior stories in the series, having chosen to start with number three because the blurb sounded more like my cup of tea than the other two stories, but the book works well as a standalone anyway.  While I wasn’t overly excited by the story itself – the answers seemed to be provided to the boys via verbose townspeople or excessively helpful spirits rather than through the boys’ endeavours – there is enough adventure here to satisfy middle grade readers looking for a brain-break and a bit of escapism.  The book is nicely presented too with the front and back covers bearing vintage-looking ads related to the story and the cartoon style art is eye-catching and easy to read.

Brand it with:

Summer holiday, message in a bottle, angry mobs

The Yeti Files #1: Meet the BigFeet (Kevin Sherry)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

meet the bigfeet

A charming and hilarious easy-read chapter book for kids, somewhere in-between Fly Guy and The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.  The Yeti family, who were forced into hiding after the release of a photo by George Vanquist, the ruthless cryptozoologist, decide to risk it all and meet up for a cracking family reunion.

Muster up the motivation because:

You ain’t never gonna find a nicer bunch of mythical creatures anywhere.  Apart from being packed with illustrations and interesting fonts to aid young readers, our narrator, yeti Blizz Richards, is just a big ol’ marshmallow that you’ll want to invite round to your house for a game of backyard volleyball.  The humour alternates between slapstick and dry and there are plenty of interesting non-yeti characters to liven things up.  While this technically isn’t a graphic novel, the illustrations are an integral part of the story and will draw in reluctant and confident readers alike.  I’m interested in finding out what happens in the later books in this series and will try this out as the first “read-over-a-few-sittings” book for the oldest mini-fleshling in the dwelling.  I’d highly recommend this for youngsters aged 6-9 who are up for adventure and a good laugh.

Brand it with:

Status set to public, outdoorsy fun, family reunions

 *I just knocked FOUR books off my TBR stack!*


What a relief to actually make some headway into the old TBR shelf!  And with such a fun and engaging set of reads, too.  I hope there’s something in the bunch that has set your eyes alight and encouraged you to add to your (no doubt overflowing) TBR stack. 

Until next time,



An MG Double-Dip, A Top Book of 2015 and a Giveaway!


imageWelcome to a very special Double Dip review and giveaway! Today I have two books for a middle-grade audience that were kindly provided to the shelf for review by HarperCollins Australia – thanks! – and that would make perfect stocking stuffers for a worthy young person of your acquaintance.  One of these is hands-down one of my TOP BOOKS OF 2015! Read on for details on how to enter the giveaway – I will be providing one winner with their choice of one of these books! Hurrah!

Let’s get on with it!

First up is my TOP BOOK OF 2015 pick – The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Archer B. Helmsley has grown up in a house full of oddities and treasures collected by his grandparents, the famous explorers. He knows every nook and cranny. He knows them all too well. After all, ever since his grandparents went missing on an iceberg, his mother barely lets him leave the house.

Archer B. Helmsley longs for adventure. Grand adventures, with parachutes and exotic sunsets and interesting characters. But how can he have an adventure when he can’t leave his house?

It helps that he has friends like Adélaïde L. Belmont, who must have had many adventures since she ended up with a wooden leg. (Perhaps a crocodile ate it. Perhaps not.) And Oliver Glub. Oliver will worry about all the details (so that Archer doesn’t have to).

And so Archer, Adélaïde, and Oliver make a plan. A plan to get out of the house, out of their town entirely. It’s a good plan.

Well, it’s not bad, anyway.

But nothing goes quite as they expect.

Dip into it for…

…a gently unfolding story of friendship and breaching self-imposed limits.  Before I get into dissecting the story, let medoldrums point out that the lovely hardback edition to which I was given access is illustrated throughout with FULL PAGE, FULL COLOUR illustrations that are just exquisite and lend that extra bit of specialness to the book.  The story begins by introducing us to Archer B. Helmsley, his unusual family circumstances and desire to break out of his mother’s overprotective clutches.  Soon enough, Oliver Glub (it’s good to be a Glub!), Archer’s next door neighbour and schoolmate, joins the fray, lending the voice of reason to Archer’s ill-thought-out plans.  Finally, just when the reader thinks they have learned all there is to learn about Archer and Oliver, and can predict how the story will unfold, we are introduced to Adelaide, French immigrant, ex-ballet dancer, and possessor of one wooden leg (possibly oak).  Adelaide was the real stand-out character for me and I absolutely adored the way that she was rendered by the author – confident but not sassy, self-possessed but not selfish and exceptional but not freakish.

The story is filled with dry, subtle humour and an atmosphere that suggests that anything is possible, despite the fact that most of Archer’s plans are foiled by fate or foe quite early on in proceedings.

Don’t dip if…

…you are expecting a story replete with action and conquest.  While there is some action in the story, not least of which being the unexpectedly life-threatening ending, the story focuses more on the developing friendship between the three protagonists and mystery surrounding the disappearance of Archer’s grandparents.  In a sense, Archer is caught in the doldrums in this story, and the adventure is more in the incidental surprises thrown up by an ordinary life rather than those encountered by well-travelled explorers.

Overall Dip Factor

Being a regular reviewer means that I am granted access, on occasion to some very high quality books.  The Doldrums really blew me away with how beautifully produced this hardback edition is – it’s something unusual and provided a wonderful print reading experience (which is why I’m not giving my copy away!!).  Just in terms of its look and feel, this book would make a great “Wow!” book to slip into a Christmas stocking.  The story is also unusual in that I expected, from the first few chapters, that the plot would quickly set up the mystery of Archer’s grandparents, provide some useful friends for Archer, and send them off on a whirlwind, whacky adventure.  Much more is going on in the story however, and it is definitely worth a look for young and older readers who enjoy subtle humour, a touch of the ridiculous and characters that you will want to be friends with, long after you’ve finished the book.

Now onto some Aussie middle-grade, also illustrated throughout and featuring a touch of the ridiculous – Olive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad and illustrated by Lucia Masciullo.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Olive has always dreamed of attending boarding school, but Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers is not what she expected. To tell the truth, dear reader, it is not what anyone expected!

The headmistress is completely bonkers and Pig McKenzie, school bully and all-round nasty swine, is determined to make Olive’s life unbearable.

Olive, however, is clever, sweet and kind, and soon gains the loyalty and devotion of three rats, a short-sighted moose, a compulsive liar and a goose who faints at the sight of cherries.

But will friendship and wits be enough when Pig McKenzie puts his Truly Wicked Plan into gear? Or will Olive be cast out of Groves forever?

Dip into it for…

…the kind of school that kids have longed to attend since time immemorial.  Groves is a school in which explosions, mess, general naughtiness, high-flying acrobatics, and throwing one’s dinner around the room are commonplace.  It olive of grovesalso features a wonderfully diverse group of talking animals as students – including my favourite, the perpetually anxious goose, Glenda (Oh, mercy!) – and a headmistress who turns a blind eye to practically every strange thing happening in her school.  Olive is a charming, steadfast, courageous young lass who does a wonderful job of making the best of a very tricky (and in some cases, literally sticky) situation and with the help of her ratty roommates, sets about proving that she is not a perfectly ordinary girl and deserves a place at Groves, in all its diverse glory, even if she has to scale a highwire wearing only tatty old long-johns to prove it.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re expecting a story that makes a lot of sense.  I suspect that this is one of those stories that will appeal to kids much more than adult readers of middle grade (although its complexity did grow significantly toward the end), but if you’re not into characters that are over-the-top and general silliness abounding, then this book is probably not for you.

Overall Dip Factor

I can imagine Olive of Groves as a wonderfully cheeky read-aloud for a classroom of mischief-loving grade three or four children.  The book has a narrator that certainly does not mince words and provides a particularly amusing commentary on the antics of Olive and her friends (and nemeses).  Apart from the chaos and high jinx that seems to invade Groves’ every corner, this book also provides some solid inspiration for those needing to stand up and be counted when it seems that the world (or even just one Very Despicable Pig) is against you.

And now it’s……

Giveaway Time!

I am going to offer ONE winner their choice of one of these books.  The giveaway is open internationally and will run from the moment this post goes live (NOW!) until midnight November 27th (Brisbane time).  The winner will be chosen using a random number generator and will have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a new winner is chosen!

To enter, just comment on this post with the title of the book you would like to win – either The Doldrums or Olive of Groves.

Good luck!

Until next time,





Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The Adult Fiction (and a bit of non-fiction) Edition…


imageStrap on your most grown-up looking cowboy hat and let’s ride into today’s Round-Up!  I’ve got four titles for you today suitable for the lover of fine novels and lateral thinking.  I received all of these titles from their respective publishers or authors in exchange for review.

Celluloid (Holly Curtis)

Two Sentence Synopsis:celluloid

Jimmy Clifford is thirty-something, depressed, shut-in and owner of a mildly successful video rental store.  When he finds out that The Crypt, a heritage cinema that shows classic films just a stone’s throw from his home, is due to be demolished Jimmy must fight the demons of depression, anxiety and being an impromptu events organiser to try and save his beloved theatre.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is an indie offering that is dialogue-driven and will definitely leave you with an amused little smirk.  Jimmy is a very likeable character thrown into a difficult position and is surrounded by a bunch of quirky and generally pretty funny friends, enemies and hangers-on.  There are a lot of laughs to be had here from the dialogue and as we follow Jimmy through a few short weeks we are privy to a man emerging from a deep hole of depression into the slightly-too-sunny-but-quite-optimistic-nonetheless light of day. This is a book with a simple concept, but a lot of heart.  And chuckles.

Brand it with:

Play it, Sam; Two Dollar Tuesdays; Friends without the gorgeous women

Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard (Lawrence M. Schoen)

Two Sentence Synopsis:barsk

Set in a futuristic world, on a planet where anthropomorphic, medically talented elephants known as the Fant are the dominant species and have developed medicines on which many offworlders depend, the time is coming when the Fant’s knowledge may be taken from them by force.  After developing a drug which allows some Fant to speak to the recently deceased, offworlders launch an offensive to find out the secrets of the Fant.

Muster up the motivation because:

Elephant doctors, obviously.  I was only granted access to an extract of this book, but the first few chapters really do a great job of world building.  We are immediately introduced to the death rituals of the Fant, and find out that a significant Fant’s death may also hide a significant secret.  There is also a young, misfit Fant introduced that may have a major part to play in protecting the Fant’s knowledge.  While the extract threw up many questions about the rest of the book, I am definitely interested in finding out more about this original story.

Brand it with:

Dr Pachyderm; Life after death; Watch out for the quiet ones

Dark the Night Descending: The Paderborn Chronicles #1 (Jennifer Bresnick)

Two Sentence Synopsis:dark the night descending

Arran Swinn is a ship’s captain who asks no questions about his cargo. He probably should have in this case however, as it lands him in a life or death struggle with a face-changing murderess, sees him making a bargain for his life he can’t hope to keep and being pursued by a single-minded Guild inspector who wants to see him hang.

Muster up the motivation because:

There is some really strong world building here and a rollicking adventure with a hapless but lovable anti-hero.  In this strange world are the neneckt – water-dwelling face-changers with a distrustful relationship with humans – and the Siheldi – a mysterious and deadly ghost-race that apparently come out only at night to suck the souls out of the unfortunate.  The tale is fast-paced as Arran races from one disaster to the next and enough creepiness balanced with humour to keep the reader engaged throughout.  There are some quite frightening scenes with the Siheldi and plenty of twists as Arran finds out who he can trust and who might just turn on him at the drop of a medallion. I’m not sure I’ll go the extra mile and continue with this series, but this first offering is certainly worthy of filling a fantasy/adventure-shaped gap in your TBR list.

Brand it with:

You look familiar, Did you pack this bag yourself?, High seas adventure

The Pilot Who Wore A Dress: And Other Dastardly Lateral Thinking Mysteries (Tom Cutler)

Two Sentence Synopsis:the pilot who wore a dress

A collection of lateral thinking puzzles, their solutions and instructions on how to use them to have a grand old time.  From old favourites to new tricks, this is an essential shelf filler for those who love to think outside the box and look superior to their friends.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you are a lover of lateral thinking riddles, this book will provide satisfaction, as you confidently and correctly answer the riddles you’ve heard before, and frustration, as you grapple with hitherto unseen brain-bafflers.  The book is split into categories, starting off gently before moving to more complex puzzles.  The riddles are written out as stories, which began to annoy me after a while, but as the introduction mentions, the book is really intended to be used with a group of people, hence the elaborate story set-ups.  For dipping in and out of as an individual though, this book would be a lot of fun, with the added bonus of making you a decided expert in the field of lateral thinking puzzles.

Brand it with:

Outside the box, Questionable motives, Fun for introverts

Hopefully there’s something here you feel like lassoing and dragging home to your reading nook.

Until next time,