ARC Read-It-If Review: Knightley and Son…

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Afternoon all! I received a digital copy of Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review – thanks!

Knightley and Son follows the exploits of 13-year-old Darkus “Doc” Knightley, son of well-known, if somewhat eccentric investigator Alan Knightley.  When Knightley (senior) wakes up from a four-year-long coma and promptly disappears from his hospital room, at roughly the same time as numerous ordinary citizens simultaneously rob banks while carrying copies of chart-topping self-help book, The Code, Darkus knows something big is going down.  After Knightley (senior’s) all important case files are mysteriously stolen, Darkus is promoted to assistant detective, and sets off to assist his father in foiling the machinations of mysterious crime syndicate known as The Combination.  Add to the mix a large, Scottish secret agent and Darkus’s hair-dye-happy step-sister Tilly, and the crime world will wish that instead of setting off to do crimey things this morning, it had stayed in bed with the covers over its head.

knightley and sonRead it if:

* you’ve been wishing and hoping that someone would write a version of “The Da Vinci Code” for teens

* you believe that the reason “The Secret” was such a bestseller could be because the authors used some kind of ancient evil to control the minds of those who merely picked it up in mildy interested fashion while browsing at their local bookstore

* you like a good, complicated mystery with lots of twists, turns, codes and puzzles to work out

* you enjoyed J.K. Rowling’s use  of accent-based dialogue for every utterance made by Hagrid, and feel the desperate need to read some more accent-based dialogue – lots more – but this time with a Scottish twang.

Keen-eyed readers may have already picked up that I haven’t employed my usual chirpy, cheerful read-it-ifs today, instead opting for a bit of thinly veiled sarcasm.  The reason for this is….I really didn’t like this book all that much.  Now, I really hate giving out bad press unnecessarily, so allow me to explain.

I was really looking forward to this book.  The cover art is awesome (big, BIG book-by-its-cover judge, me), the blurb was interesting, the mystery/crime element appealed greatly given that there aren’t a whole lot of books of that genre getting around middle-grade and YA fiction right at the moment.  I think I first heard about this book round about the time I was reviewing Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase, and for some reason I linked the two in my brain.  But while Lockwood & Co was an unequivocal five star read, Knightley and Son was just okay.

I felt the execution, particularly with regard to character development, was somewhat lacking.  Darkus, at thirteen, is somewhat of a child genius – he has memorised all of his father’s case notes, is able to make accurate deductions about behaviour and people’s movements based on minute details that he observes in the environnent, and he dresses in tweed, like a miniature of his father.  Great. But WHY?  We receive no explanation as to why or how he got this way, and as the plot unfolded and Darkus was involved in more and more complicated interactions in the investigation, my annoyance at this increased and I found it almost impossible to suspend my disbelief.

In fact, I found pretty much all of the characters in this book to be fairly two-dimensional which distracted me from the story.  I couldn’t go along with the more fantastical elements of the plot because I didn’t even believe the ordinary people, doing ordinary things, were authentic.  Going hand in hand with the flat characters was the unfolding of the plot in a whole host of pat and convenient ways.  Things just seemed to work out too simply for my tastes.  I didn’t feel that there were enough major setbacks for the characters to overcome, as solutions to problems seemed to conveniently pop up just when they were needed in ways that didn’t require the characters to struggle particularly hard.  Given the complicated nature of the actual crime that was being investigated, once again, things just didn’t ring true.

And that, in the end, is what ruined this book for me.

Now, for you, this may not be a problem.  For the average middle-grade or teen reader, in depth character development may not be the first thing they look for in a novel.  The fun and intrigue of the code-cracking and the crime-foiling and the mysterious-book-exploring may well be enough to have them clamouring for the next in the series.  Unfotunately for me though, I will see the next book in the series, with its no-doubt eye-popping cover art, and will be reminded of the disappoint-ivity that blossomed into great blossoming clouds as I delved deeper into this book. Sigh.

A note though.  Please do not allow my pessimistic rantings to dissuade you from picking this book up.  My lack-of-fervour for this title may well stem from the long build up of anticipation that occured while I was waiting t0 get my paws on it.  If you think the blurb sounds interesting (as indeed, did I) and the cover catches your eye (as indeed, it did mine) I urge you to give it a go and decide for yourself.  Perhaps this is all just a ruse so I can keep all the copies with their lovely, lovely covers to myself….*

Aside from all that, it would fit perfectly into category four (a book with someone’s name in the title) of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge…just something to think about.

Until next time,

Bruce

* It’s not a ruse. I genuinely found this book annoying, sadly.

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Fi50 January Challenge: The Best of Intentions….

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imageMorning all – the Fiction in 50 January Challenge is open for contributions! If you’d like to play along, simply write a piece of fiction or poetry or anything that isn’t factual, based on the prompt below and link it up to the linky or share it in the comments.  For more detailed info and for prompts for challenges further down the track, simply click on the Fi50 button on the right.

This month’s prompt is…….

fi50 jan button

I feel like I’ve outdone myself this month, and I hope you agree.  This is certainly my favourite piece so far!  Although, admittedly, it is 51 words long and therefore fails the challenge, but I could not decide on another word to cull. Editing suggestions are most welcome.  I have titled this piece….

Bob’s Big Break

“What’s your best price Bob?” asks St. Peter.

”We’ll replace this path with patented Good Intentions Pavers, plus eternity-length warranty on cracking and fading, for $9 million per square metre!”

“How much?”

“Okay, $8m. Mate’s rates.”

 “Go to Hell!” sputters Peter.

Bob considers. It’s the break he’s been looking for.

So there you have it.  Join in with your links here:

The linky will remain open for a whole month, so you’ve got plenty of time to play along (and cull that 51st word).  New players welcome! Old players in disguise welcome!

The prompt for February is….

love in the time of button

You get to fill in the blank.  How exciting! How diverse! How democratic!

I look forward to reading your efforts this month challenge buddies.  Oh, and if you are hankering after some more short and sweet poetry, obscure proverbs and hilarious picture-y, check out my tumblr feed – it’s good for what ails you!

Until next time,

Bruce

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Fi50 January Challenge Reminder and that quirky mistress, Tumblr…

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It’s that time again!  The first Fiction in 50 writing challenge for the year kicks off on Monday the 27th of January!  If you’d like to participate, simply write a piece of fiction (or poetry or whatever) in 50 words or less and link it up to the linky when my post goes live on Monday.

The prompt for this month is….

fi50 jan button

Still going on those resolutions, anyone??

fiction in 50For more information or to find out prompts for the next few challenges, click on this attractive button!

So, onto my next point for this post – that quirky mistress, Tumblr.

Recently I decided that, not feeling quite ready to tackle the gargantuan social-interaction machine that is Twitter, I would attempt to take on a slightly more manageable branching out into other platforms.  So I selected Tumblr.  Now, everyone who I have since mentioned this to has immediately commented, “I don’t really get Tumblr,” and I must say that I have to agree with them.

Despite not being 100% sure what the point of Tumblr is, I have nevertheless leapt in with gusto and selected Tumblr as the new place for most of my random poetry, musings and hilarious images* (* hilarious as rated by me).  To whet your appetite, here a few of my recent posts….

Obscure Proverb of the Day – Everyone knows not to count their chickens before they’ve hatched and to look before they leap, but what about those other, less well known proverbs, that in spite of their lack of popularity, have nuggets of wisdom to impart to the switched-on reader?  Here is an example of one I’ve dug up:

rotting tooth

Hilarious pictures – Recently I have been having somewhat of a field day with one of the mini-fleshling’s Hobbit figurines.  Really, the permutations are endless. And endlessly amusing to me. Please enjoy an example of Dance numbers we’d like to see in Hobbit! The Musical…Flight of the Bilbo-bee

flight of the bilbobee

Virtual Fridge Poetry – in this instance, it is the fridge that is virtual, not the poetry.  Here is one I put together only a few days ago, to honour those suffering in the ridiculous heat we southerners have had to endure very recently…It is titled “Vindictive Summer”:

vindicitve summer

So if dancing hobbits and lowbrow poetry are your thing, hop on over to visit me at Tumblr – I’ll have the cold drinks and cupcakes on standby!

Until next time, get those mini-creative juices flowing!

Bruce

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ARC Haiku Review: Hope is a Ferris Wheel…

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small fryGood sweaty morning to you all! I’m particularly excited today because I am unleashing upon you all my first submission for the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge 2014!  If you don’t know what this is, you should immediately click on the delightful button directly to the right of this sentence and inform yourself. We’ll wait. Go on.

Right then! I am submitting Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera in category 5 – something that comes in pairs.  Can’t guess why? It’s WHEELS! Wheels generally come in pairs when attached to an axle.  And just so you know, I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!

Hope is a Ferris Wheel follows a school year in the life of ten year old Star Mackie, who has recently moved to a new town and is finding it difficult to make friends.  This, she suspects, is due to a number of factors – her attractive blue “layered cut” that the other kids call a mullet, her classmates’ inexplicable dislike of trailer parks as a place of residence, and the fact that she is new and a bit different.  Star begins a quest to make friends by starting a club and after a few false starts – The Trailer Park Club not attracting the level of interest she initially expected – the Emily Dickinson poetry club opens some new doors for Star as well as giving her a few new headaches.  Add to this the ongoing drama of living with a busy single mother and a creative, yet misunderstood older sister and Star’s life is all getting a bit complicated.  And we haven’t even mentioned her mission to finally meet her dad.

hope is a ferris wheel

Round and round Star goes

Where she stops nobody knows

Least of all herself!

This book is a real little charmer.  It’s aimed at a middle grade audience and reminded me in some ways of the old Judy Blume books, with a heavy emphasis on a young kid just beginning to emerge into a more grown up world and having to navigate a way through strange new problems.  Star is a very likeable narrator with a refreshing naivete regarding the big bad world.  The child characters in the book are nicely fleshed out and although they have some stereotypical aspects – there’s Denny, the grumpy, protective older brother, and Eddie the tough kid – those aspects never make up the whole of the character.

One of the big drawcards for this book for we shelf-sitters was the theme of poetry running through the book.  Star falls in love with an Emily Dickinson poem about hope after a lesson from their teacher, and later finds out that Eddie, the tough guy, happens to be a dab hand at poetry too.  The poetry club forms a great backdrop for the kids to come out of their shells and find common ground in an otherwise shaky social situation.

There are a few adultish themes running through the book, mainly related to Star’s older sister, but nothing that a reasonably mature middle-grade audience couldn’t handle.  Overall, this was a quick, memorable read and one that approaches the beginnings of growing up in a fun and engaging way.  Hope is a Ferris Wheel is due for publication in early March.

So now I’m off to link up to the Small Fry Safari – even if you’re not signed up, hop on over as there are already some eager safari beavers who have submitted some entries!  Hi ho, Safari, AWAY!

Until next time,

Bruce

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Bruce’s Lucky Dip: Unlikely Pursuits for your Weekend…

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imageIt’s time once again for a Book Depository Lucky Dip! For those uninitiated folk, this consists of me typing an enticing search term into the Book Depository’s engine, and then hand-selecting the finest results for your viewing pleasure.

Given that in Australia it is currently the peak of the summer/school holiday boredom season, and parents are seeking more elaborate ways to escape from their hyperactive and ever-present offspring, I have selected the search term “Things to Do”.  Parents, you can thank me after you have successfully adopted some of these new avenues to personal growth.

For those wondering what to do with that extra whalebone they’ve got lying around the craft room:

corset building

The Basics of Corset Building: A Handbook for Beginners (Linda Sparks)

For those who like to spend quality reading time in the bathroom:

52 things to do while you poo

52 Things to Do While You Poo (Hugh Jassburn) …if that is his real name….

For the disenfranchised Twentysomething set:

retirement park trailer home

Things to Do in a Retirement Home Trailer Park…When You’re 29 and Unemployed (Aneurin Wright)

For the God-botherer looking for a shortcut to paradise:

anxious christians

Good News for the Anxious Christian: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do (Phillip Cary)

For those too busy to pursue leisure activities in the prime of their working life:

to do when you're dead

100 Things to Do When You’re Dead (Rob Bailey)

And my personal favourite,

For those who live in locations with plummeting land values, or conveniently located adjacent to a museum of military history:

tank spotters guide

Tank Spotter’s Guide (Marcus Cowper/Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints)

This is my personal favourite not so much because it is a guide to spotting tanks (that may proliferate in one’s local neighbourhood one presumes) although that is reason enough.  What I love most about this title is the fact that it is compiled by the Church of Latter-Day Saints.  Now, to members of the CoJCoLDS, there may be some bleeding obvious reason why tank spotting is a reasonable and expected leisure pursuit, but as I do not count myself amongst this membership, the authorship of this book seems bizarre at the least, and therein lies its worthiness as pick of the bunch for this foray into Lucky Dipping.

Other contributions are most welcome, if any of you are aware of a not-to-be-missed title relating to “things to do”.

Until next time,

Bruce

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The Word Exchange: The end of the world as we splerg it…

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I am very excited today to bring you my Read-it-if review of The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon – my second five star review of the week.  It’s been a very fortuitous seven days, I must admit. I received a digital copy of this book from Hachette Australia via Netgalley. Thanks!

So I know I may have mentioned once or twice that I was over dystopian novels.  Even the best of us can sometimes be wrong, however, and The Word Exchange is just the kind of dystopian/apocalyptic tome that I will happily let slip through the net.  Why? Because it’s the thinking person’s dystopian.

The plot has a lot of twists and the character relationships and reveals are quite complex, so there’s not a lot I can elaborate on without risking spoilification, but let me have a go at a synopsis.  In a not too distant future, the written word has become somewhat anachronistic.  People are attached (in some cases literally!) to their “Memes” – devices worn like a headpiece, that allow instant access to the internet, do the job of a phone, complete financial transactions and even make intuitive decisions for their wearers based on stored prefences.  For instance, if a wearer starts to think it’s time to leave a party, their Meme may automatically call a cab or list the quickest train times and routes home.  Written language is restricted only to very specific professions and those with a nostalgic streak.

On the night Ana’s father, a key figure in the production of the latest (and final) edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language goes missing, a sequence of events are set into motion that could result in the end of language as we know it.  As the shady business empire Synchronic Inc promotes a new site that allows the general public to create their own words and definitions and sell them through an online language marketplace, some individuals begin to display symptoms of aphasia and fears of a highly contagious Word Flu begin to spread.  For Ana, her friend Bart, and most of the people they love, things are about to get out of hand in ways no one could ever have imagined.

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Read it if:

* you believe that your picture should be listed in the dictionary beside the definition for the word “anti-hipster”

* you denounce ereaders at every opportunity in favour of the glorious scent and texture of print

* you always carry stamps in your wallet, you have never owned a mobile phone, your computer has a stylish, modern, walnut-laminate veneer, and you are reading this post via an internet server powered by a hand crank

* you prophesy that the reduction of our rich language into clichéd acronyms such as LOL, OMG and FTW can only end in the destruction of life as we know it

As I said, this isn’t the kind of book that I frequently read, and it took me a few chapters to get my head around what was happening.  The book is told from shifting points of view, between Ana and her friend Bart, and initially I found Bart’s chapters to be hard going due to the character’s idiosynchratic voice.  This eased up considerably when the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Ana’s father gather momentum, and more details about the future world become apparent.  Ana’s chapters include footnotes, for reasons which will become clear at the end of the story, but as I was reading this on a Kindle, often the notes appeared three or four pages past their related sentences and I found it mightily distracting trying to flick back and forth between screens.  Luckily the story was engaging enough that I felt that the flicking was a necessary evil in order to get to the end.

Being someone who reads a lot of young adult fiction, it was refreshingly different reading a book that is well and truly nestled within adult fiction – I found the complexity of the storyline a real drawcard and I enjoyed trying to piece together the loyalties of the characters, figuring out who was working with who and on which side of villainy various characters fell.  The best thing about this book is undoubtedly its unique take on the concept of apocalypse (which has really been done to death, at least in the YA market) and the fact that the author wasn’t afraid to imagine situations that really make the reader question how they relate to, and use, language and technology on a day to day basis.

The book has an atmosphere of distrust and dis-ease that slowly overwhelms the characters and seeped out into my cosy little reading nook.  With the Memes in the story having such a starring role in how things pan out, I did feel a bit creeped out that I was reading on a digital device, rather than in good, old-fashioned, safe print!

This certainly isn’t a light beach read, but while the concepts are fairly heavy, they are balanced perfectly with action and enough mystery to keep the reader working to click the pieces into place before the narrator does.  I recommend The Word Exchange to anyone who’s looking for a read to make them sit up and pay attention – and creep them out enough to take an internet-holiday for a few days!

The Word Exchange is due to be published in early April…but I’d preorder if I were you, in case the Word Flu breaks out in the meantime.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Read it if: 8-Bit Christmas….

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Today I have a belated Christmas present for all you children of the eighties and contemporary eighties revivalists – the gem of nostalgic goodness that is Kevin Jakubowski’s 8-Bit Christmas.  I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review – thanks!

8-Bit Christmas is an epic roller coaster of a tale revolving around nine-year-old Jake Doyle and his soul-crushing, arm-twisting, sister-enlisting quest to get the brand new Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas, 1987.  Only one kid in Jake’s town has the power that comes with owning an NES (coincidentally, the richest and most spoilt kid in town) and he wields this power by forcing the neighbourhood kids to beg, borrow or steal their way into his house on a Saturday morning in the vain hope of securing a few minutes playing time.  After a tragic (and messy) event during one of these Saturday morning sessions, the parents of Jake’s town ban the purchasing of Nintendo systems, and the successful completion of Jake’s quest suddenly seems a lot less likely.  Cue Jake’s sister and her comparably crippling desire for a Cabbage Patch Doll, the collected baseball card resources of Batavia’s kid population and a whole lot of wishin’, hopin’ and prayin’ and Jake may just find that Christmas wishes do come true!   Or maybe not.  You’ll have to read to find out.

8 bit christmasRead it if:

* you’ve ever felt the keen, incisor-sharp sense of desperation for some new-fangled consumer product that is woefully beyond your ability to attain

* you’ve ever known the pain of having to kowtow to some jumped up little snot in your class/neighbourhood/(dare I say it) family in order to experience some tiny sliver of the joy that comes from owning the aforementioned new-fangled consumer product

* you were a kid in the 80s or are currently experiencing a sense of faux-stalgia for a time period in which you were not born, but feel you know due to the proliferation of pop culture references currently doing the rounds on the interwebs

*you can’t go past a book that so expertly conjures up the atmosphere of your own childhood, that you feel that you probably actually knew the author as a kid, but have somehow forgotten

I LOVED this book.  Jakubowski has somehow managed to reach through a wormhole and pull out the sights, sounds and yearnings of kids in the late eighties.  The pop culture references are spot on.  The descriptions of the social pecking order and the factors that really influence kid friendships are flawless.  It is a fantastic read.  If you were a child in this time period, particularly if you were a boy and especially if you know, deep in your heart, the excitement and desire created by Nintendo at this time, I daresay you will thoroughly enjoy this book.

If you are a child (or teen) TODAY, with any kind of interest in toys, gaming and pop culture of yore, I suspect you will also thoroughly enjoy this book.  Jakubowski has written this with such kid-knowledge, that even contemporary kids will recognise the importance of Jake’s quest and relate to the difficulties of getting one over on the adults to attain the object of your desire.

But the best bit is the ending.  I had already rated it a five-star read in my mind before I got to the ending. The ending pushed me over into the elusive (and some say mythical) territory of the six star review.  And I’m not telling you what happens.  But you should read it.

Until next time,

Bruce

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