ARC Haiku Review: The Race for Polldovia…

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Greetings my lovely lovers of laudable literature! It is Mad Martha with you today, bringing you a haiku review for a delightful new middle grade novel, The Race for Polldovia by first time author James Rochfort.  I was lucky enough to receive a digital copy for review from the publisher, Book Guild UK – ta muchly!

The Race for Polldovia features nine year old Sophia, who, possessed as she is of a vivid imagination, spends a lot of time daydreaming about a magical land called Polldovia, and Polly, the plucky and pure of heart young princess who lives there.  During one of these daydreams, Sophia finds herself drawn into the world of her imagination, only to find Princess Polly a prisoner of the terrible war-lord, Naberius, and in desperate need of help.  So begins a daring bid for freedom and the search for a magical flower of legend, that has the power to bring peace and healing to all…or in the wrong hands, the destruction of all that is good.  As Sophia and Polly embark on their quest, along with the faithful steed Acanthus, and with Naberius in hot pursuit, other mysteries are uncovered that may make Sophia question who she really is…and how she was able to travel to Polldovia in the first place.

race for polldovia better quality

World of daydreams is

all too real for  Sophia

Needs all her courage

Now first off, let me say that this is decisively one for the girls.  That’s not to say that male readers won’t enjoy the story by any means, but this book has all the ingredients that girls of a certain age seem to love above all else.  There’s an imaginary best friend that Sophia suddenly meets in real life, a (sort-of) talking horse, magic, castles, a princess and a beautiful fairytale-type land to frolick in.  But added to this, there’s also rollicking adventure, some pretty scary monsters on the girls’ tails, and the promise of major terror should they fail in their quest.  So all in all, there’s a lot going on here in what is a fairly compact little novel and it is perfectly pitched to the interests of the tween market.

Rochfort creates an atmosphere in this book that is reminiscent of authors like Eva Ibbottsen and Joan Aiken.  There’s an ethereal other-ness about the magical land, overshadowed with a certain sense of danger or fear.  There is also an authenticity to the lands of Sophia’s imagination that isn’t reliant on reams of detail or bogged down by unnecessary descriptive passages that slow down the action.

I thought it was interesting that the author chose to make Polly older than Sophia, although the reason for this becomes obvious later in the story.  The character of Polly assumes a sort of big sister role for Sophia throughout the book, and almost works as a role model for Sophia’s character development.  All in all, this would be the perfect choice for young girls who love fairytale type stories with strong, yet obviously feminine protagonists, or alternately, would work beautifully as a read-aloud before bed, to inspire dreams of looking one’s fears in the face and conquering them.

The Race for Polldovia was released on the 27th of February – so it really is hot off the press!  And if that’s not exciting enough, keep an eye out for a GIVEAWAY (!!!) coming next week, in which you have the opportunity to WIN (!!!) one of THREE (wohoo!) paperback copies of The Race for Polldovia. Exciting, no?!

Until we meet again, my fair ladies and gents,

Mad Martha

Read-it-if Review: Glimpse…

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Today I am very pleased to be bringing you the awesome beginning to what looks like a fantastic series in the Young Adult bracket – Glimpse (Book 1 of the Dean Curse Chronicles) by Steven Whibley.  I received a copy for review from the publisher via Netgalley, although the book was released in April last year.  Why then, I wonder, did I not come across it before? For it has all the elements that I love to see in a paranormal YA book, including, but not limited to, timey-wimey conundrums, the restless dead, mysterious secret societies and group therapy meetings.  Allow me to explain.

In Glimpse, we are introduced to average almost-fourteen year old Dean, as he stumbles upon some muggers beating up a man in an alleyway on his way to school.  After chasing the muggers off, Dean tries to help the man, but all he gets is a whispered word (bet you can guess what it is…I’ll give  you a hint, it’s in the title) before the man falls unconcious and is taken to hospital.  Dean is hailed as a hero but soon finds out that something that happened in the alley has caused him to have terrifying visions of people screaming in fright. On discovering that his visions seem to predict people’s deaths, Dean and his friends Lisa and Colin try to find out the cause of Dean’s new “gift” (or possible curse), before Dean’s psychologist father has him in some serious therapy.

glimpseRead it if:

* you’re the kind of person who loves to say, “See, SEE, I told you that would happen!” when any situation occurs that has even the most tenuous link to something you once mentioned in passing in coversation

* you believe that to defeat a worthy foe (a painful little sister, for instance), you need only discover their weakest point or deepest humiliation…and then use it against them at opportune moments

* you love a good shrieking apparition – the kind that sets your eardrums ringing and gets every hair on the back of your neck (or the back of everywhere, really) standing on end

* you’ve ever made a complete fool of yourself in front of an entire classroom, endured the brunt of teasing and awkward looks, ridden out the storm of humiliation and assured yourself that things have blown over….only to find out later that things can always be worse

I really, really enjoyed this book.  For starters, Dean, Colin and Lisa are very likeable characters, the relationship between them is believable and there was never a time when I thought that their motivations and actions were not authentic to their age-group and abilities.  The dialogue between them works and there’s no sense that this author is trying to write like kids talk. The strength of these three characters really carried the story through for me and made it a lot of fun to read.

Whibley has managed to write scenes that had me feeling a bit tense and creepy, while also keeping the overall tone of the book light.  While reading the scenes in which Dean sees his visions, I got some chills up my spine – there’s something very freaky about imagining an apparition of someone you know looking all undead and zombie-like, then getting in your face while screaming in terror.  I really felt Dean’s fear in those parts, which made the whole book more believable.  Also, the story is very well crafted.  There were no lulls in the plot, there was always something going on and there was a great mix of action, mystery and problem-solving that pushed the story along at a fantastic pace.

I’m really surprised that given the quality of the writing and the plot here that I haven’t come across this book earlier.  I would highly recommend Glimpse to YA readers, and particularly those at the younger end of the age bracket, who enjoy paranormal and mystery, who like a story with a lot of action and humour, and don’t mind a bit of a scare factor.  I can’t wait to get my paws on the next two books in the series.  Hooray! Another new author to stalk follow with interest!

Until next time,

Bruce

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Fiction in 50 February Challenge: Love in the time of…

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image

Welcome one and all to the February Fiction in 50 Challenge!  Every month for Fi50 we ask brave and creative fleshlings (like you!) to take on the challenge of creating a piece of fiction based on a prompt in 50 words or less.  Last month we had a number of new faces that threw their assorted headwear into the ring and as a result we had a nicely diverse range of responses to the prompt.  If you would like to participate or find out about future months’ prompts, click on that delightful image up above.

To add your contribution to the linky, simply click on the little froggy dude below:

This month’s prompt was an open-ended invitation to fill in the blank with…

love in the time of button

Being a lover of wordplay in most of its many forms, I have chosen to fill in the blank with one of my personal favourite things.  I give you….

Love in the Time of Palindromes

*rated MA 15+ for implied adult themes*

“Happy birthday darling!” Ava kissed Otto.  “Dinner, 7 o’clock, UFO Tofu with Hannah and Bob. And, tickets to….”

“Ah! Satan Sees Natasha at the Llama Mall!”

“And for desserts, I stressed: no lemon, no melon.”

“You’re a mega gem!”

“And when we’re alone…”

“Not a banana baton?!”

….

“Fancy skipping dinner?”

I came in at 50 words on the knocker this month thanks to some judicious editing.  I’ve noticed I seem to be a big fan of dialogue based narrative…perhaps next month I should challenge myself to write an Fi50 with no dialogue at all….or maybe not.  Speaking of next month, our prompt for the March challenge will be:

tiny beautiful button

So feast your eyes on the efforts of our little Fi50 community for February, share the challenge around if you know any aspiring (or utterly casual) writers of mini-narrative, and generally enjoy our combined efforts to advance the cause of anti-novel writing!

Until next time,

Bruce

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Fi50 Reminder and an ARC Read-it-if: Game Over, Pete Watson

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imageEvening all! Today I have a reminder for all those intrepid explorers of the written word – Fiction in 50, our monthly writing challenge gets underway for February starting Monday, the 24th of February.  We had some new faces joining us last month with some fantastic and creative entries, so if you’d like to participate, simply click on the button to find out how to get involved.
This month’s prompt is….

love in the time of button

(You fill in the blank!)

Now on to the meat of today’s post – a read-it-if review for middle grade funquest, Game Over, Pete Watson by Joe Schreiber and illustrated by Andy Rash.  I received a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley for review – thanks!

The sinisterly titled Game Over, Pete Watson focuses, unsurprisingly enough, on young Pete Watson, as he attempts to legally purchase a copy of the latest video game on the market, Brawl-a-Thon 3000 XL.  In doing so, Pete inadvertently allows a top secret piece of government equipment to fall into hands that clearly don’t have security clearance.  So begins an adventure that sees Pete rekindle old friendships (and maybe even flames), set right his accidental wrong-doing and save the world, all while gaining valuable video game skills in the process.

game over pete watsonRead it if:

* you have ever inadvertently lost, given away or sold something that later turned out to be of major financial and sentimental value…say, your brother’s entire collection of still-in-the-box, mint condition, rarer-than-rare, original Star Wars figurines…

* you believe that, far from being a waste of time and the gateway to the destruction of society, video games have much to teach the young about pro-active problem solving – particular in situations in which bad guys pop up conveniently at the end of every season

* you were always a fan of the endings of the majority of Scooby Doo episodes

To avoid giving any more cryptic (or not so cryptic) spoilers, I might have to stop there.  Now having recently read a veritable stack of middle grade fiction in this sort of vein, I can’t honestly say that this is the best of them.  HOWEVER, there’s a lot here that kids of the right age bracket are going to love.

Firstly, the book has really short chapters, interesting font and plenty of illustrations (Pete attempts to include 50, but I didn’t count, so you’ll have to take his word or count for yourself), which make the book highly visually appealing.  Secondly, the content is perfectly age appropriate, particularly for boys – it has video games, mystery, an older, unattainable love interest (his best mate’s big sister), the troubles with having a nerdy best friend and how this will affect one’s position on the social ladder, and the opportunity to be a hero and save the day.  There’s also a giant mechanical cockroach that makes an appearance – if that doesn’t get the punters in, I don’t know what will!

This really is a book that I doubt will be read widely outside the age group at which it’s aimed.  As an adult reader, I found it a bit irritating at points, although admittedly, there were some one-liners (usually related to some pop-culture reference of yore) that had me laughing out loud.  And as I mentioned earlier, there is a very Scooby-Do-esque reveal during the ending which was an absolutely classic piece of writing in my opinion.  But although I didn’t get too much out of it as an adult, I think this will be a real hit with middle graders.

I can see this as the perfect read-aloud bonding experience for middle grade video game lovers and their dads (or video game loving mums!).  I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but I think it would also be a good choice for reluctant readers due to the format and visual appeal of the book, and for the humorous and action-pacsmall fryked content.

Game Over, Pete Watson is due for release on March 11th.  It would also make a great choice for category four of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – a book with someone’s name in the title.  If you don’t know what I’m on about, click the button and find out (then join up!).

Until next time (don’t forget to get those pens working over the weekend ready for Fi50!),

Bruce

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ARC Haiku Review: 100 Hungry Monkeys!

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It’s Mad Martha here with you all to present another Haiku review.  Today I will be poetrising on the sumptuous feast for the eyeballs that is 100 Hungry Monkeys! by Masayuki Sebe.  I was lucky enough to receive a digital copy for review from the publisher via Netgalley – although I might have to buy a print copy too, because the illustrations are too good just to be viewed in screenish, pixely form.  To whet your appetite, here’s the cover:

100 MonkeysIsn’t it fantastic?! I love the main monkey doing Stayin’ Alive. Awesome.  But I digress.

100 Hungry Monkeys! is a search and find storybook that follows some adventurous monkeys (guess how many!) through an eventful quest to get some dinner.  Finding nosh to satisfy such a large troupe turns out to be the least of their worries however, as a close encounter with a monster has them shuffling quickly onward to an exciting climax!  Throughout the book there are lots of little questions and challenges to prompt keen-eyed mini-fleshlings to hunt for things in the packed-to-bursting double spread pages.  At the end of the story there are also a few extra challenges for those who feel the need to find every little thing hidden within the pictures.

To give you an idea of the scale of such a challenge, here is one of the double page spreads:

double page 100 hungry monkeysIt’s the kind of thing I can picture 5 to 8 year old boys taking one look at and saying, “I accept the challenge!”  Obviously, the text is somewhat secondary in a book like this, but the story is fun enough anyway to support the real amusement of searching and finding.  This is also a great book to help introduce the concept of “one hundred” which can often be tricky for young children.  Having a fun pictorial representation like this can really help to engage kids who are less than impressed with the whole idea of having to learn numeracy!

So without further ado, here is my haiku review:

Gauntlet thrown down by

Simian Centurion…

Better start counting!

I heartily recommend this one for reluctant readers in the 5 to 8 years age group, due to its attractive illustrations and the interactive nature of the text.  I heartily recommend it also to eager readers under the age of 8 years, for basically the same reasons.  I now must go forth and try and get my hands on other books by Masayuki Sebe (who seems to have a particular fondness for the number 100) for those times when my eyeballs are in need of some illustrative stimulation.  100 Hungry Monkeys! is due for publication on March 1st, so consider this fair warning to get your pre-orders in.

Au revoir readers!

Mad Martha

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ARC Read it if Review: Grim…

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imageAfternoon all, and welcome to the first in my series of reviews of Fairy Tale retellings.  You may (or may not) recall that I was previously a reject-out-of-hand type of gargoyle regarding any kind of fairy tale reimagining, given that I was not that great a fan of fairy tales to begin with.  At the end of last year however, I read two fairy tale reimaginings – Scar and the Wolf by Plainfield Press and Talespins by Michael Mullins – and enjoyed them so much that I was forced to review my (admittedly fairly judgemental) policy.  So this year one of my goals is to delve more deeply into this genre and see what comes of it.

To kick us off, I present to you Grim, edited by Christine Johnson. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review – thanks!  Grim is an anthology of stories based on classic fairy tales, but with a dark or sinister twist, reimagined by a collection of prominent and current authors in Young Adult fiction.   There are a whopping seventeen stories to whet your appetite over the whole 480ish pages, so surely there must be something here for everyone.  The stories range from the light and humorous (oddly, for a book of supposedly dark and sinister retellings) to the …well…dark and sinister.  And be warned, some of these are very dark and quite remarkably sinister.  But more of that later.

GrimRead it if:

*you enjoy fairy tales the way they were traditionally meant to be enjoyed – that is, with a healthy dose of blood, gore and summary justice to make your stomach turn

* you’re a fan of YA fiction boys – book boyfriends, bookish beaus, reader’s eyecandy, whatever you want to call them – and the whole paranormal romance genre in general…preferably with a side order of blood, gore and summary justice to make your stomach turn

* you enjoy the idea of fairy tales but, like me, you can never quite remember how the original ones turned out in the end anyway

So I’ll start with the positives.  The thing I like about anthologies is that the diversity of authors writing about the same topic generally means that there will be at least a few (although, with a bit of luck, many) stories in the bunch that really hit the nail on the head for you.  This was the case for me with Grim.  Out of the seventeen stories, there were a handful that I really enjoyed, with The Brothers Pigget, Thinner Than Water, Better, and Figment being the main ones that I still remember clearly after finishing the book at least a week ago.  There were others that I enjoyed reading, but didn’t make a marked impression, such as The Key, Raven Princess and Light It Up, and the rest I could either take or leave, or I really hated.  But that’s the good thing about anthologies – I didn’t expect to love every story, and I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed the majority that appeared here.

A lot of the tales really do take a whole new spin on the stories they are retelling, which is always good.  There was a wide range of settings – space ships and a rock and roll tour being two of the most obscure – and this really added to the experience for me as, with the sheer number of stories here, the book could be in danger of going stale with too much repetition.

On the other hand, there were a few things that struck me as odd about this collection.  For one thing, I found it really tricky in some cases to figure out which fairy tale was being re-told.  Now, admittedly, I am not an expert on fairy tales so it could have just been my deficiency in this particular field of knowledge causing the problem, but in case others also had this problem, I imagine it would be fairly irritating to those who really know their fairy tales.  It didn’t bother me too much – I just enjoyed the stories at face value rather than trying to decipher their origin – but if I had bought this book as a lover of fairy tales, I think some of these stories would have fallen short for me.

Similarly, the book is touted as a collection of retellings “with a dark and sinister twist”.  A handful of these stories, as I mentioned earlier, don’t seem to have a twist at all, and others are not dark in the least.  For instance, my favourite of the bunch, Figment, was really quite funny and had a really likeable narrator.  (Don’t ask me to tell you which tale it was based on, I’ve got no idea).  Another one, Light it Up, simply modernised the Hansel and Gretel story, rather than giving it any new twist.  Again, this didn’t bother me particularly – in fact the two I’ve just mentioned were two that I really enjoyed – but it seems a bit strange that the collection would include these stories when the premise of the book is the “dark and sinister” bit.

But now to the major beef I had with this book. I acknowledge that others will not share this one, especially given the point that this was billed as a “dark and sinister” book – but I had real issues with the themes of sexual violence in some of the stories.  In a couple of the stories (by no means all, so don’t get the wrong impression), there were instances of incest, implied rape and general brutality, all perpetrated against female characters.  Now, I don’t have a problem with that necessarily, provided two conditions are met – one, that there is some kind of warning in the blurb (and I don’t mean like a parental guidance warning, I just mean something that hints that this is really for the upper end of the YA market, if not New Adult) and two, that the instances of sexual violence are in some way integral to the plot.  In one of the stories, at least condition two was met.  In Thinner than Water, we get the whole shebang – incest, graphic violence and animal cruelty – but those elements are essential to the plot and outcome of the story.  I can’t say I enjoyed reading this one, but I certainly appreciated the way the elements were worked into the story in order to create the story arc and resolution.  In fact, in terms of crafting the story, I think this one was the best of the bunch.

The other two instances, in Better (implied rape) and Skin Trade (brutal violence toward a female character) were, in my view, completely gratuitous.  More so for the latter story than the former, but still gratuitous.  This particularly annoyed me for Skin Trade, because again, I couldn’t figure out which fairy tale this was based on, and also because the predatory behaviour of the males in the story and the ultimate violent violation of the female character just seemed far out of place for a book marketed at young adults.  Call me old-fashioned but I don’t see why a story in which

***spoiler alert here***

a young woman is hunted by three men, only to be restrained naked in their basement before having her skin torn off

***end spoiler alert***

really needs to be included in an anthology that will be read by people in their early teens.  In fact, thinking of that story still gives me the creeps, but not in a satisfying, “man that was a great, scary twist!” kind of way.  More in a “man, that was completely gross and uncalled for” sort of way.

So really, I had a mixed experience with this one, but apart from that one story that crossed a line for me, overall, the experience was good.  I’d say, if you are a fan of fairy tale retellings, definitely give this one a go.

Grim is due for release on February 25th 2014.

Until next time,

Bruce

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If you love books, set them free…..

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Welcome one and all, and let me be the first (from this shelf) to wish you all a happy International Book Giving Day!

Book giving posterWhat, you didn’t know it was International Book Giving Day? Well what did you think today was? The Worldwide Day of Overspending on Chocolates and Flowers? Well, it could be that too. But we prefer to promote book giving day around here, because it might result in someone giving us a book (because, you know, we of the shelf are fairly deficient in that area).  Or maybe not.

A group of people who are somewhat restricted in their access to brand new books however, are those who do not have a fixed place to call home.  Which is why this year, to celebrate IBGD, I will be supporting the Footpath Library!

For those of you who are unaware of the Footpath Library and its mission (as indeed was I up until a few months ago), this fantastic charitable organisation aims to get new books into the hands of those living on the streets, in shelters or hostels, in their cars, on other people’s couches and basically anywhere that isn’t somewhere that any of us would really like to call “home”.  When you think about it, this is a brilliant idea, and one that I would never have considered.  If I paused for a moment to imagine what would happen to we shelf denizens if we were ever to become shelf-less, the one thing we wouldn’t lose would be our love of reading – however it might suddenly become a lot harder to get our collective paws on reading material.  Disaster!

The generous poppets at the Footpath Library are aiming to overcome this problem and well done them, I say.  People can help the Footpath Library by donating books, donating money, donating bookcases or donating knitted items.  For more information about the Footpath Library and how you can get involved, check out their website here, or click on their logo:

footpath library

As the Footpath Library does have a few guidelines as to the condition and content of donated books (which you can also find out about at their website), I have decided to support them by “Shouting for a Cause” – so I have shouted them the cost of a book and a coffee.  I may even make this a regular thing, it’s so easy to do – just click on the Shout for Good link on their webpage and off you go!

So in the flurry of romanticism that always erupts at this time of year, don’t forget to consider passing on the lovingest gift of all to someone you know or someone you don’t – a book!

Until next time,

Bruce

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A Quartet of Awesomosity: The Best Books I’ve Ever Read….

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Good evening friends, followers and hangers-on.  Tonight I present to you a post smeared with the brush strokes of excellence, in the unfading, weather-resistant shade of sparkly brilliance.  Tonight, I will reveal to you a quartet of tomes that have changed the way I look at children’s literature.  Tonight, I present, THE BEST BOOKS I’VE EVER READ…..on a variety of obscure topics….since the beginning of the year.

Oh, sorry, did you think I meant the best books I’ve ever read? Like, ever? Well I’d love to tell you about those but that would take an extreme amount of thinking on my part and the cobbling together of some form objective criteria on which to base my decision and that would take far too much of my valuable time.  So you’ll just have to settle for the four best books I’ve read on topics that you probably wouldn’t have considered perusing.  Set your eyeballs to stun – you have been warned.

First up, we have….

The Best Book I’ve Ever Read about the Pitfalls of Befriending a Coyote Pup

okay andyThe Book:  Okay, Andy by Maxwell Eaton III

Acquired: From the publisher via Edelweiss – thanks!

Synopsis: Andy the (long-suffering, one would suspect) alligator enjoys endures a close, personal acquaintance with coyote pup Preston, to the mutual benefit of both.

Why you should read it:

This is a fantastic little graphic novel with super-appealing illustrations.  While it’s only a very short read, as most graphic novels tend to be, the three adventures involving the pair (and a cast of other characters including an escape-artist rabbit, a daredevil turtle and a scaredy-bear) contain lots of humour.  One can feel the frustration of poor old Andy, as he spends quality time with enthusiastic young Preston.

Recommended for: at only 96 pages, this little tome would be perfect as a read-together for those aged 5 and above, or as an independent read for the 8+ set.  The small amount of text coupled with the fun illustrations should also make this a great choice for the reluctant reader or big kids who just want a quick giggle.

Next we have…

Ooh Odd ZooThe Book:  Ooh Odd Zoo: 25 Unusual Animals and 1 Ordinary Larva by JefF Williams, John Rios, Sonny Han and Geoff Elliott

Acquired: Purchased while attempting to find out when the sequel to Scar and the Wolf (by the same authors) was due out. Found this instead.

Synopsis: A collection of short verses introducing the budding zoo-oddigest to some interesting animals that are generally not household names.  Highlights include the Zyzzyva, the Hax and the Passenger Pigeon (who “used to exist”, but “now they’re just missed”)

Why you should read it:

Once again, the illustrations – simple black and white line drawings – are just superb.  On top of that, this book contains hands-down the funniest poem about a maggot that I have ever read.  And if those two factors don’t convince you to get onto this book now, then I don’t know what will.  I just wish I’d bought it in paperback instead of e.

Recommended for: poetry lovers, connoisseurs of fine humour and fanciers of obscure animal life.

Third to the party is…

The Best Book I’ve Ever Read about Hermit Crab Psychology and Behaviour

never underestimate a hermit crabThe Book: Never Underestimate a Hermit Crab by Daniel Sean Kaye

Acquired: from the publisher via NetGalley – thanks!

Synopsis: An in-depth and totally serious examination of hermit crabs and their habits. Non fiction.

Why you should read it:

Firstly, I suspect someone was having a laugh when they filed this under the “children’s non-fiction” category in the Netgalley catalogue.  This little book takes a hilarious look at all the less well-known talents and hobbies in which hermit crabs like to indulge.  My favourites are karate, comic book criticism and DIY.  Once again, the illustrations absolutely make the book.  The range of facial expressions possible on a crustacean that essentially lacks a face really shows up the talent of the illustrator. Kudos.

Recommended for: Hermit crab owners and owners-to-be, and all those who like their non-fiction to contain a good dose of fictional content.

And finally…

The Best Book I’ve Ever Read about Militant Socks

lost socksThe Book: Conspirators of the Lost Sock Army and the Loose Change Collection Agency by Dan O’Brien and Steve Ferchaud (illustrator)

Acquired: from the author in exchange for review – thanks!

Synopsis: Unsuspecting bloke Robert is press-ganged into assisting a Leprachaun representative of the Loose Change Collection Agency to vanquish the “Scourge” and his army of sock gremlins.  Clearly, Robert didn’t get enough sleep last night.

Why you should read it:

This is an odd little book.  It’s only 41 pages long and illustrated, but within those pages a well-developed story unfolds quickly and without any flabby plot lines or dialogue to get in the way.  As with the other books here, the illustrations are top notch – unfortunately I can’t get the cover for you, but I’ve included one of the interior illustrations here for your viewing pleasure.  The illustrations add immensely to the story and really give it a bit of extra zazz.  The story itself though is well worth a look, if only for the pike-wielding sock soldiers.  I always wondered where those missing left ones had got to.

Recommended for: anyone who likes a rollicking adventure that can be read during a tea-break.  Admittedly, it would probably have to be a two-cup tea break, but still.  The author has recommended this for ages 8 plus, and while this will appeal to kids who like a fun fantasy story, this also has a lot to interest older readers who like something a bit off-beat to break the monotony.  I’ve also just picked up another of O’Brien’s works – for adults this time – a short story about a psychologist for monsters that I can’t wait to get into as it sounds right up my alley.

So there you have it.  Four of the best books I’ve ever read.  Perhaps you’d like to try them too! Allow me to point out that a number of these books would fit perfectly into categories for the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge: Okay, Andy would fit category four (someone’s name), Ooh Odd Zoo would fit category one (safari), Never Underestimate a Hermit Crab would fit category seven (something unsightly – oh come on now, they aren’t the cutest animal getting around…), and Conspirators of the Lost Sock Army would fit category five (something that comes in pairs).  All the more reason to get your hands on these books really, isn’t it? If you don’t know what the Small Fry Safari challenge is, simply click on the attractive button below and be whisked away to a portal of useful information.

small fry

So until next time…do you have any best books ever on an obscure topic?  I’d love to hear about them!

Bruce

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Mondays with Marple: The Murder at the Vicarage…

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imageWelcome one and all to the inaugural go-around of my new feature, Mondays with Marple.  It’s a bit self-explanatory really.  I read a book featuring Agatha Christie’s gardening, knitting, amateur sleuth extraordinairre, then tell you about it. On a Monday.

I decided to begin Mondays with Marple as I really hadn’t got into any of Christie’s Marple mysteries, being, as I am, more of a Poirot fan. So this is only the second Marple I’ve read, the first being A Murder is Announced, for the What’s in a Name Reading Challenge in which I participated last year.

So, to start at the beginning, with Miss Marple’s first case, I present to you my thoughts on The Murder at the Vicarage.

murder at the vicarage

Plot summary:

After uttering the supposedly throw-away remark that “anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world a large service”, St Mary Mead vicar Len Clement is chagrined to discover that in a matter of days, someone has done just that. In Len’s own study, no less.  Now there’s a turn up for the books!  Now it’s up to Len, the local constabulary, and one elderly neighbourhood spinster to put their heads together to uncover which of the many worthy suspects could have commited such a dastardly deed – human nature being what it is, of course.

The Usual Suspects: (basically, who’s in the book…)

The unassuming and well-intentioned vicar (our narrator), his younger, attractive wife, the vague, head-in-the-clouds (or is she?) daughter of the deceased, the handsome, man-about-town artist, the wife of the deceased (wife number two), the village doctor with humanitarian ideals, the collection of gossipy old ducks, the visiting archaeologist and his delightful young secretary…and of course, the obstinate, overbearing Inspector and his foil.

Level of Carnage:

Only one murder in this book.  Shame really. I quite enjoy the Christie’s that have multiple murders.

Level 0f Wiley-Tricksy-ness of the Plot:

As usual, I fell for all the red herrings.  Honestly, you’d think I’d be able to pick the ending at least once, but nope.  She’s too good.  This one is satisfyingly complex, with enough clues dropped out to make you think you might have it before the final reveal….but you’ll probably be wrong!

Overall Rating:

imageimageimageimage

4 out of 5 knitting needles…mainly because I enjoyed the voice of Len Clements as the narrator.  I would have liked to have seen Miss Marple make more of an appearance, but I’m sure that will happen more within the later books.

In closing, here is a picture that I found on the interwebs that I think is both highly amusing and appropriate to this post. Enjoy.

keith richards

Until next time,

Bruce

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Small Fry Safari Readers Challenge: Carnivores…

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small fry

Well hello there Safari buddies and spectators!  Today I have for you my second submission for the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge (click the button above for more info) and this time it is in category one – a book with something to do with Safari in the title.

Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Dan Santat is a subversively funny tale of three prominent carnivores who find themselves shunned by the greater animal community for indulging their passion for all things made from meat.  Lion, Timberwolf and Great White Shark attempt to remedy this situation through what can only be described as group behavioural therapy with varying degrees of success, before realising that sometimes you’ve just gotta be yourself, no matter how many fluffy woodland creatures you alienate (or ingest) in the process.

Carnivores

Read it if:

* you believe that meat is murder….of the delicious, tasty variety

* you have ever had a craving that could not be denied

* you resent the implication that your lusty and insatiable consumption of meat-based products (ie: other sentient beings) means that you are some kind of monstrous decimator of the fwuffy-bunny-and-other-doe-eyed-cutie-creature community

The illustrations in this book are just priceless.  You can see from the cover the comedy contained in the facial expressions of the characters and this is carried on throughout the book.  Honestly, the vacant expressions on the faces of various about-to-be-eaten woodland creatures really made me feel like they weren’t such a terrible loss – after all, Timberwolf isn’t really bad…he’s a CARNIVORE!  The illustrations also add extra humour to the text, which is funny enough – for example, the food pyramid pictured below features on the endpapers at the beginning of the book, only to be replaced by an empty food pyramid diagram on the final endpapers.

carnivores page spread

This would be a great choice for mischevous, non-vegan kids aged from about five to nine years old as a fun introduction to the concept of carnivorous animals and the food chain.

Until next time,

Bruce

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