Fiction in 50 June Challenge: The Upper Hand…

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Welcome once again to the Fiction in 50 monthly challenge.   To find out more about the challenge, click here.  To participate, all you have to do is create a piece of fiction in 50 words or less based around our monthly prompt.  This month, our prompt is…

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Once you’ve written your piece, you can add it to the linky below, or add it in the comments.  And don’t forget to hop around and check out other entries! Here’s this month’s linky:

And here’s my contribution.  I have titled it….

Sleight of Hand

“And now, I will make the coin disappear!” Fumble, fumble. “Ta da! Good, hey?”

“Not really.  I saw it drop into your pocket.”

“Only because I’ve told you how it’s done! Besides, it won’t be a problem for this show.”

“Oh really! Where’s the performance?”

He winks.

“Chudley Hospital Radio.”

Your turn! New players are always welcome, as are old ones.  For regular punters, the list of prompts for the next six months can be found here.  But in the meantime, the prompt for next month is…

path to enlightenmentUntil next time,

Bruce

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Indie YA Double Dip Review…and a Fi50 reminder!

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Afternoon all! Before we launch into the tasty goodness of an indie YA double-dip, I’d like to remind all comers that June’s Fiction in 50 challenge will open on Monday the 30th.  This month’s prompt is…

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If you’d like to play, all you need to do is create a piece of fabulous fiction (or crappy fiction…we’re not fussy) in 50 words or less and then link it up to the linky in my post on Monday.  For more detailed info just click on the large button at the top of this post.  See you on Monday, mini-narrative-maestros!

Now onto the double dip! First up we have Small Town Witch (The Fae of Calaverasmall town witchs County #1) by Kristen S. Walker.

Rosamunde is your average teenage witch.  She attends school with a bunch of human and non-human friends, she gets stuck with her grumpy, non-witchy sister, and she does her best to be a good daughter.  Taught to always be careful with her fledgling powers and to adhere to the law of the magical community, Rosa is more than surprised to discover some odd spells hidden around her bedroom. 

With friendship dramas unfolding, and a possible new love interest moving into the picture, Rosa must begin to unravel the mystery of who placed the spells and why.  As she delves deeper into the problem, Rosa discovers that her mother may be using her powers to keep Rosa’s family compliant in psuedo-happiness.

In order to free herself and her family from the spells, Rosa must decide whether she should step up against her own mother – the witch who has taught her everything she knows – and risk tearing her family apart.

Dip into it for…

…a nicely imagined urban fantasy in an unusual setting.  Most of the urban fantasy that I have read is set in big cities, like London, so it was interesting to read a book set in a small town.  It gave the action a more homey feel and I think it’s a new and different way to approach the genre.  Walker has also done a great job of bringing in a whole range of different magical creatures but keeping the mythology in the story contained.  In urban fantasy that embraces a diverse range of magicality, there’s always the risk that the author will have to spend endless passages explaining the whys and hows of the world they’ve created, but Walker has allowed the setting to speak for itself and the “rules” of her world are easily picked up through the story.  Another unusual facet to this book is the emphasis placed on the general teen angst experienced by Rosa and her sister Akasha – despite living in a community that embraces magic, they also fall prey to the kind of friendship and relationship issues that non-magical teens deal with, and I think this will appeal to your average YA reader of that age bracket.

Don’t dip if…

…you like your urban fantasy tight and action-packed.  There is an enormous amount of detail around Rosa’s family and friendships here that I found a bit tedious to be honest.  I felt that the editing could have been a lot tighter to keep the action flowing, and to create a few more peaks in the narrative.  Having said that, this book might be better categorised as YA chick lit with magic thrown in, as the relationship detail did give the book a very distinctive feel.  I think that the book would certainly have appeal to a wider range of readers if the book was categorised this way, because it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting from an urban fantasy, but it was an interesting and worthy read nonetheless.

Overall dip factor…

This is going to appeal to readers of YA contemporary first and foremost, I suspect, rather than your hard core urban fantasy purists (if there is such a thing!).  With a bit of judicious editing, Small Town Witch has the potential to bring a whole different audience into the world of urban fantasy, which can only be a good thing.  And book two in the series has already been released, so readers who lap this one up don’t have to wait around for the sequel – bonus!

Next we have another YA urban fantasy in a slightly different vein – Salted by Aaron Galvin.salted

Lenny is one of the Salted – a slave who lives in an undersea colony, with the power to transform into a Selkie.  Lenny works as a chaser, hunting down escaped slaves and bringing them back home to face their gruesome punishment.  When Lenny is charged with hunting down famous escapee Marisa Bourgeois, he knows this is a chance to prove himself, and possibly win his own freedom.

While being nearly drowned on purpose by a classmate, Garrett Weaver discovers that he has the ability to transform into a sea creature.  As no one else seems to notice Garrett’s odd affliction, he begins to think he’s going mad until one day at the aquarium, Garrett discovers others like him.

Lenny and Garrett are about to cross paths in spectacular fashion, and when they do, it could spell major danger for both the boys, and the people they care about.

Dip into it for…

…an urban fantasy that features mythical creatures we haven’t seen before.  No vampires or werewolves here!  Galvin has created an interesting world in which the power to transform into a Selkie comes, for some, with the price of slavery for themselves and their families.  It’s a unique take on the genre, with the mythical creature aspect twinned with a sort of dystopian society in which slaves can’t escape their underwater prison without dooming their loved ones to a horrific punishment.

There’s plenty of action to satisfy the thrill-seekers among us, mostly fueled by the thrill of the chase as Lenny and his crew hunt down the wiley, elusive and intriguing Marisa.  The male protagonists also give the book a rough sort of tone that complements the action and the dystopian aspect nicely.  The dual story lines featuring Lenny and Garrett provide a point of difference and allow for some changes in the pacing that give the reader time to take a breath.  There’s also plenty of unanswered questions to puzzle over – why can Garrett suddenly transform? Why do the Selkies hate the escapees so much? What is Marisa hiding and how does she manage to evade capture for so long?

There’s a lot to like here, but again, it’s not your average urban fantasy.

Don’t dip if…

…you like to have your hand held when you dip into a new fantastical world.  The first few chapters really throw you in at the deep end (pardon the pun) as the reader is plunged (pardon, again) straight into Lenny’s underwater world.  The Selkies have a peculiar turn of speech and the context isn’t spelled out in a detailed way so I did feel like I was floundering (SORRY!) a bit.  In fact, when the story flipped to Garrett’s point of view for the first time, I was quite relieved to be back in the realms of something I didn’t have to work to understand.  There are quite a lot of characters that get introduced early on and I did have a little trouble keeping them straight, although this lessened as time went on.

Overall dip factor…

If you enjoy the type of urban fantasy that features shape-shifters and societies with their own rules, you’ll probably enjoy Salted.  Selkies are a nice change from the standard vampire/werewolf dichotomy and I like that Galvin has chosen to branch out from the magic + sea = mermaid formula by choosing a lesser known creature.  Salted is heavy on action and mystery and low on romance (hurrah!), and is focused more on the fantasy than the urban.

So that’s all from me. If your appetite has been whetted, get your dipping hand warmed up, grab your savoury snack of choice and scoop up some  YA indie goodness!

Until next time,

Bruce

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Jesper Jinx: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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Morning all, and welcome to another meeting of the Maniacal Book Club! Today we have a middle grade illustrated chapter book that leaves no depth unplumbed in the humorous misadventure category.  It is Jesper Jinx by Finnish author Marko Kitti.  Marko is the first Finnish author we’ve had on the blog so far, so we’ve come over all multicultural.  But let’s get on with it!

Jesper Jinx

Jesper Jinx is an eleven year old boy who seems to attract trouble like nobody’s business.  This book follows some of Jesper’s escapades (two and a half, to be exact), as told to author Marko Kitti.  In the first story, Jesper accidentally gives his cat, Snowy, a new fur colour and in the second, Jesper accidentally gives away some of his best pranks to a teaching insider.  Essentially, this is a written record of the things that can go wrong in hilarious ways when a bored young lad is unleashed upon unsuspecting passers-by. 

Guru Dave

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My friends, this book is all about learning one’s lesson, about gaining self-control and about turning one’s skills to good, not evil.  Actually, in all honesty my friends, this book is about none of those things.  It is about mayhem and chaos and shenanigans perpetrated upon the unwary and innocent.

The boy Jinx has a telling catchphrase throughout this book: “What harm would it do to have a little fun?” Kitti’s writings recorded here explain fully the extent of how wrong things may go if left in the hands of an unsupervised eleven year old boy.  I fear for the karma of the Jinx boy.

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No dragons in this book. There’s lots of trouble though.  And a cat that gets turned red.  And a kid with a moustache – I thought that was pretty funny.  But no dragons.  That’s probably a good thing because Jesper with a dragon could be more than the world is ready for.  Still. It might be more fun if there was  a dragon.

Mad Martha

Jesper Jinx, Jesper Jinx,maniacal book club martha

If he were a girl, you’d call him a minx.

His crazy behaviour will make parents groan,

He probably shouldn’t be let out on his own.

Heed this advice that I freely share::

Should you see Jesper coming, by heavens, beware!

Bruce

maniacal book club bruceJesper Jinx is the kind of book that will have kids aged about 7 and up rolling in the aisles as they read about Jesper’s wildly chaotic adventures.  The book is a short read with a great formatting balance between text and illustrations and will have the young ones (especially boys, methinks) turning the pages until they’ve uncovered the whole sorry tale of Jesper’s antics. The story is packed full of kid friendly humour, like playing pranks on one’s teacher, and is really all about innocent fun.

Kitti’s style is very much like a combination of Roald Dahl and David Walliams, so if you’ve read either of those two authors (and really, who hasn’t?!) you’ll know exactly what you’re in for here.  There’s plenty of silliness and unexpected plot twists that plunge Jesper into even more trouble than before.

Admittedly, this is one of those books for kids that really is pitched to be enjoyed most by kids in the target age range, rather than one that adults will get a lot out of too.  Having said that, it does have all the makings of an engaging, fun, funny and accessible entry point into the early chapter book format and as such, would be perfect for reluctant readers, or as a “just for the fun of it” classroom read-aloud.

You can visit Jesper and find out more about this book and the next in the series at http://www.jesperjinx.co.uk

Until next time,

Bruce (and the club!)

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Adult Fiction ARC Read-it-if Review: Lost and Found…

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Morning all! I am so, so pleased to be bringing this book to you today.  I have adopted this state of heightened excitement because in this book I have found an Australian equivalent to one of my all time favourites, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.  That book had all the things I love in a novel – old people, an obscure quest and dry humour.  The book I present to you today has all that and more – not just old people, but shouty, rude old people.  Not a simple obscure quest but an obscure quest involving a one-legged shop mannequin.  And not just dry humour, but…well, lots of dry humour.  I give you Lost and Found by Brooke Davis.  Double points for Australian authorage.

I was lucky enough to receive a digital copy of this title from Hachette Australia for review, but I have to go and buy it in hardback anyway now, and put it on the “special” shelf to be watched over by my book-guarding minions.

Lost and Found follows the (slightly tragicomical) story of Millie Bird, a seven-year-old with a preoccupation for dead things, a father who has recently become a dead thing, and a mother who has abandoned her in the underwear section of a department store.  We first meet Millie in said underwear department as she waits for her mother’s return under the watchful eye of Manny the hawaiian-shirt-wearing mannequin across the aisle. Partway into Millie’s eventful waiting, she meets Karl the touch typist, an octogenarian widower who spends his days sitting in the department store cafe, silently grieving his dear departed Evie.  Shortly after Millie escapes from the department store (and, simultaneously, from the social services) with the help of Karl, we are introduced to Agatha Pantha, a widow who has not left her house since her husband died seven years ago, and who fills her time with such productive measures as the keeping of a daily record of her physical signs of ageing, and the shouting of remarkably personal insults at passers-by from her lounge-room window.  As the social services close in, Agatha and Millie make an attempt to follow Millie’s mum, using an itinerary left behind in the house.  Along the way they join forces with Karl and together the three (well, technically four – Manny ends up along for the ride too) evade the law and try to find Millie a home. 

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Read it if:

* you’ve ever felt a real and personal connection to a shop mannequin (in any sort of attire)

* you hope to grow old disgracefully and take up a life of geriatric delinquency

* you like to ponder the big questions, such as “Where do parking inspectors go when they die?” and “Has my arm flab increased by more than a millimetre since yesterday?”

* you believe (as I do) that if we were all allowed to shout insulting things at other people when we are having a bad day (month/year/life) then navigating a path through everyday social situations would suddenly become a lot more interesting

Aaaaaahhhhhh.  That is the sound of contented sighing when, after reading only 2% of the Kindle version of this book, I knew that it and I were resonating on the same frequency.  This book is by turns delightful, sad, poignant, hilarious and a bit off-putting.  The off-putting bit relates to a reasonably graphic description of old-people sex, in case you’re wondering.  It is the book that I was hoping The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin was going to be, but whereas the characters and situations in that book annoyed me and seemed trite and contrived, the characters in Lost and Found just jumped off the page in a comfortable mix of idiosyncracies.

I could imagine that some readers might find Karl and Agatha (and especially Millie, in her precocious innocence) a bit contrived and annoying, but for me they were perfectly constructed and I just fell in love.  I loved Karl’s rebellious spirit and commitment to tagging public (and private!) property in popular 1980’s parlance.  I laughed my guts out at Agatha’s compulsion to shout the awkwardly anti-social obvious (“Assymetrical face!” “Stupid shoes!”) and I cheered inwardly at Millie’s determination to play the Angel of Existentialism by adopting the persona of Captain Funeral for her captive fellow train passengers.

While the characters embark on what feels like an epic journey, I knocked the book over in a couple of decent sittings because it was one of those stories that had me continually thinking, “I’ll just read one more chapter/to the next page break/until Agatha shouts something next”.  Inevitably, I was drawn ever-deeper into the increasingly complex (and somewhat ridiculous) web of deception and evasion of public officials that Karl, Agatha and Millie spin.  Like the book itself, the ending is at once poignant and light, inevitable and satisfying and one designed to keep the three main characters in the reader’s mind, while accepting that this too shall pass.

All in all, Lost and Found is a five star read has earned a place on my list of favourites.  As soon as someone takes the hint and buys me a hardback copy of Harold Fry, I will place these two side by side on my shelf as a tribute to humour in the midst of a finite existence.

Until next time (Reads too slow! Dried out eyeballs! Yawning at inappropriate moments!),

Bruce

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Adult Fiction Haiku Review: Elizabeth is Missing…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today to share a haiku review for a book that we have read recently and very much enjoyed.  Dealing, as it does, with senior citizens, we were already predisposed to feel affection towards it, but the writing and the plot have cemented this book as one which will remain with us for a long time (ironically, given the afflictions of the main character). I speak, of course, of Elizabeth is Missing, a contemporary literary fiction novel by Emma Healey.

The book follows the slow decline of Maud, an elderly lady who experiences a constant feeling of distress at the fact that her friend Elizabeth has gone missing, and this distress is exacerbated by the fact that no one seems to believe her.  Maud, it must be said, is also suffering from what can only be described as dementia, but despite forgetting to turn the cooker off, the names of her carers, and various other important facts of her day-to-day existence, the pressing need to find out where Elizabeth has got to consumes her waking mind.  As Maud’s condition deteriorates, she is drawn ever deeper into memories of her past, in which her older sister, Sukey, also mysteriously disappeared without trace shortly after the War.  While Maud’s daughter Helen does all she can to distract and reassure her ailing mother about the current mystery of Elizabeth’s whereabouts, nothing will stand in the way of the indomitable Maud as her disintegrating mind works to uncover the secrets that are being hidden from her.  With single-minded purpose, Maud continues on her quest to find Elizabeth, and in the process inadvertantly digs up some clues that may also help solve a family mystery that has persisted for rather longer.

elizabeth is missing

What was it again?

My friend, yes! She’s missing! Who?

Elizabeth? No…

Healey has done a fantastic job here of capturing the frustration, confusion and general sense of loss that accompany the decline of a once-agile mind without sinking any of her characters into a mire of depression.  From her own recollections of girlhood, we can tell that Maud has always had a curious and fairly tenacious personality and this is reflected in the character’s ever more drastic attempts to make people aware that Elizabeth is missing and that something must be done about it.  Helen, Maud’s daughter and carer, is realistically portrayed as a frustrated woman of middle-age trying to manage both teenage daughter and elderley mother simultaneously.  While I was reading I had the strongest feelings of resonance between the events and emotions portrayed in this fictional work with the events and emotions portrayed in the real-life memoir of Andrea Gillies, Keeper: One House, Three Generations and A Journey into Alzheimer’s,  in which Gillies describes being a full-time carer for her mother-in-law.  Despite Maud’s hot-and-cold relationship with Helen as her disease progresses, Healey never demonises Helen but, I think, strikes a nice balance between the frustration of the declining and the frustration of the carer.

My favourite relationship here is that between Maud and her grand-daughter Katy – throughout the book Maud has a hit-and-miss record of remembering who Katy is, but it is obvious that Katy, slightly rebellious teenager that she is, is the only one prepared to meet Maud where she’s at.  The two have some brilliant conversations in which the patronising tone of other adults in the book towards Maud is completely absent and it’s delightful to see how this simple dynamic changes Maud’s outlook and reminds her that she is still a functioning individual on many levels.

Apart from the fantastic characterisation in the book, the mystery of Elizabeth has a nice arc of suspense to it.  Although as the story moves on, the reader can make some educated guesses about Elizabeth’s whereabouts, the final reveal is compounded by this new (old) mystery of the disappearence of Maud’s older sister.  There’s a good sense of balance played out between the two mysteries – as one begins to wind down in the mind of the reader, the other is picked up, creating a continuous sense of puzzlement that is reflected in both Maud’s actions and the actions of those around her.

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read with a clever twist on your standard cosy-type mystery.  Although there is a bit of humour peppered throughout the book, it felt to me to be quite a dense read, so I would suggest picking it up when you have plenty of time to unravel the threads of memory along with Maud.

Until we meet again, may your ration books be plump and juicy and your marrows be ever filled with stamps…or something like that, anyway.

Mad Martha

* I received a digital copy of Elizabeth is Missing from the publisher via Netgalley *

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Bruce’s Lucky Dip: On Location at The Lifeline Bookfest…

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Good morning all! Today’s Lucky Dip is a little bit out of the ordinary, because instead of using the Book Depository’s search engine for my lucky dipping, I decided to send Mad Martha out into the real world to do some dipping at the Lifeline Bookfest!

For those not familiar with the Lucky Dip, it usually involves delving into the BD’s search engine to find the funniest or weirdest titles on a particular search term.  For those unfamiliar with the Lifeline Bookfest, this is a semiannual second-hand book sale put on by the charity Lifeline.  It’s been running for many, many years now, and although I haven’t bothered attending for at least the last six or seven years, I was inspired by a post by Jeann from Happy Indulgence back in January to send Mad Martha out into the world to do some real-life dipping into a large, conveniently located pile of books.  Here’s a picture of her using the public transportation system to arrive safely at her goal:

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How happy she looks to be out amongst the fleshlings! Without further ado, please enjoy the spoils of her toil in our first non-virtual Lucky Dip!

 For those who have become bored with the Where’s Wally? concept and wish to test their observational skills in a real life context:

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Home Alone 2: Lost in New York Where’s Kevin?

Although one could just as easily ask the question, where is Macauley Culkin now?

For those who wish to get their kids onto the neverending cycle of fad diets and unattainable body image early, we have The Wizard, The Ugly and the Book of Shame:

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At least, I assume that this book is aimed at dissatisfied women in their 30s.  It certainly sounds like the sort of magazines they read.

For the youngster with a date with the juvenile justice system:

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In case you can’t read that, it’s called Susie and the Wise Hedgehog go to Court. Yep.

If I had the choice between a trained lawyer and a cute little woodland creature I’d probably pick the hedgehog too.

Next is that book on every kid’s TBR pile:

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It’s How Will I Behave Today and the Rest of My Life?

How indeed?! If Susie had read this book early on, maybe she wouldn’t have ended up going to court with a hedgehog, however wise said hedgehog might be.

Now for my favourite book filed in the Children’s section:

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An Australian Murder Almanac: 130 Years of Chilling Crime

I admit, I nearly bought this one.  After all, who could go past a book that labels a collection of murders such as those committed by “The Baby Killers” as a set of “gripping yarns”?

Panic not though, for although this book was obviously placed in the wrong section, I later came across this one:

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A Child’s Book of True Crime

I’m not sure why the cover features a nice collection of Australian wildlife (unless that’s an artist’s impression of the dingo from the Chamberlain case with a hitherto unacknowledged Kookaburra accomplice) but it’s nice to know that kids get their very own tome related to the more base aspects of human nature.

So they were the best that Mad Martha could unearth in the short time that she spent rifling through the books on offer.  She did, however, come across this serendipitous and inspired mash-up of book categories:

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Honestly, you couldn’t script that, could you? Wonder how the New Agers felt about that pairing…

And finally, after coming across piles and piles of these:

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We decided that Stephanie Meyers has a LOT to answer for.  And the same goes for you, Collins:

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There was an absolute abundance of these two sets of books.  Mad Martha didn’t bother looking in the adult fiction but I’m sure there would have been more than a few stacks of Fifty Shades, unable to be sold yet unable to be burned to keep the homeless warm.  A travesty.

So really, that was about it.  Mad Martha mentioned that stepping into the children’s section in the $1 category was like taking a time-bending trip back to a primary school library of the 1980s.  Bliss! She managed to pick up a long sought-after copy of Finders Keepers by Emily Rodda (in our favourite cover too!) and a slightly dog-eared RL Stine book that we recently searched for online but were dismayed to find was now out of print – this will be the focus of an upcoming Tomes of the Olden Times feature!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this unusual Lucky Dip – we’d love to hear if any Brisbanites managed to get down to the Bookfest this time around and whether you picked up any gems.  Or indeed, if anyone has come across some untapped veins of gold in a second hand bookstore in their own wanderings!

Until next time,

Bruce (and Martha)

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A YA Fiction Double-Dip: Bobby Ether and Drawing Amanda…

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G’day folks and welcome to my YA Double-Dip.  I’ve got two YA indie fiction titles for you today (obviously) – Bobby Ether and the Academy by R. Scott Boyer and Drawing Amanda by Stephanie Feuer.  I received a digital copy of both books from the publisher (Bobby via Netgalley and Amanda via Hipso Media) in return for an honest review.  So let’s get cracking!

One minute Bobby is shooting the miraculous winning basket at his school’s basketball match and the next hebobby ether‘s being whisked away by a mysterious woman named Cassandra, with two large men in suits in hot pursuit.  It seems Bobby has a hidden talent – an ability to manipulate the energy in himself and in the outside world, in order to do extraordinary things – but this is the first Bobby’s heard of it!  Before he knows it, Bobby is stolen away from Cassandra by the suited men and taken to The Academy – a boarding school hidden high in the mountains of Tibet, run by monks and teachers with extraordinary abilities.  Bobby tries to blend in and slowly makes a few good friends, but the snooty Ashley and her thuggish sidekicks immediately begin to make Bobby’s life difficult.  And making friends with Ashley’s younger brother Jinx sure doesn’t helped that relationship.

As Bobby learns more about the Academy, he and his friends discover that there is something sinister going on that may reach all the way to the headmistress.  But can Bobby stay out of trouble long enough to uncover the secret? Or will Ashley and her friends always be there to get in the way?

Dip into it for….

…a very original premise.  I’ve not read anything much like this before in YA – the book has a real focus on power coming from the natural energy available within ourselves, as opposed to a paranormal type of talent.  There’s  a bit of focus on meditation and how to unlock the potential within and the monks in the book are a really interesting addition to the overall makeup of characters.  Master Jong, one of Bobby’s teachers, turns out to be quite the (metaphorical) ass-kicking, supermonk by the end of the story and ended up being one of my favourite characters.  The plot is also pretty complex, featuring a shady agency (the Academics) whose motives and intentions for the talented young people they educate isn’t exactly clear, and there are a lot of characters whose true loyalties are shrouded, making it difficult for Bobby (and the reader!) to know who to trust.

There is also a clear (but not cheesy) theme of the strength of friendship and the power inherent in knowing oneself that runs throughout the book, freshening the whole plot up a bit and helping it avoid descending into a teen version of a politico-psychological thriller.

Also, there’s a creepy bald kid with a malevolent ferret. You’ve got to admit, you don’t see that every day.

Don’t Dip if…

…you’re not into plots that take a while to unfold or plots that have a lot of twists and turns and red herrings thrown in.  I also felt that a lot of the mean-girl type bullying from Ashley and her goons was a bit contrived, given the setting (would super-talented kids trained in mindfulness and meditation locked away in the Himalayas (some since birth) really bother with petty schoolyard antics to such a degree?).  Some of the initial action which results in Bobby’s arrival at the Academy, and his responses afterward also didn’t ring true to me.  I can’t really elaborate much, due to potential spoilers, but Bobby’s behaviour didn’t seem in character for someone who had been through a recent personal trauma.

Overall Dip Factor:

Take a risk on something different.  Despite a few flaws, I was drawn in and despite feeling that I should put it down in a few places, I didn’t and was quite satisfied that I stuck with it because I ended up enjoying the adventure of the resolution.  Plus, Jinx is a cool character.  And of course there’s the malevolent ferret.

In Drawing Amanda we follow “Inky” Kahn as he struggles on entering high school afteDrawing Amandar the recent death of his father in a plane crash.  His mother has left him to his own devices and to manage his grief, Inky turns to his artistic abilities.  Amanda is new to school following her family’s migration from Nairobi to New York, and is finding it more than difficult to fit in amongst the various groups at the international school.  When Inky’s best friend Rungs gives him the link to a website developing a new video game, Inky thinks he might have a chance to show his art to a wider audience. Unbeknownst to Rungs and Inky, Amanda manages to copy the link and also logs in to the game-in-development, Megaland.  When Inky starts submitting his drawings for the game, based on his classmate Amanda’s looks, things start to get  complicated.  And when Rungs delves a bit deeper into the makers behind Megaland, it becomes apparent that things are about to get very tricky indeed.  Unless he can convince both Inky and Amanda of what he has discovered, both his friends may be exposed to more danger than either can handle on their own.

Dip into it for…

…a contemporary tale about fitting in, growing up and facing your demons.  This was a nice change of pace from my usual fare because I don’t often read books in the YA category that don’t have some kind of paranormal or fantasy or psychological twist.  This was a very straightforward plot and I enjoyed the simplicity of the story, while also appreciating the various trajectories of character development for the main four characters.  The setting of an international school gave rise to a diverse range of characters and I loved how Feuer managed to seamlessly work cultural and religious backgrounds into the story without making it sound contrived.  I even learned not to show the soles of my feet to a Buddhist if I wish to remain in their good karmic books!

Central to Inky’s character development is the idea of grief and bereavement, and the pressure that can be placed on the bereaved to “move on” and regain one’s former pace of life after a particular period of time has passed.  It was interesting to see this played out with both a male and female character simultaneously in the book, as Inky’s ex-friend Hawk is also recovering from the death of a parent.  The theme of creating one’s identity is also quite strong as Amanda attempts to find a new way of being in a context in which everyone else seems to have already cemented their place.

The underlying plot point about internet safety is played out with a fair amount of realism and Feuer manages to avoid preaching about it, instead demonstrating how easy it is for those who feel emotionally vulnerable to be taken advantage of by someone they think they know.

Don’t Dip if…

…you’re looking for anything particularly fast-paced or with a focus on action or romance.  It aint’ here.

There is however a fair chunk towards the end of the book that deviates from the main story arc and focuses on the main characters’ major assignment for the year.  While this section was interesting in itself, I felt it popped up at a weird place in the story because Rung’s investigation into the Megaland maker had just become exciting and this deviation slowed the pace a little bit.  This wasn’t reason enough to abandon the book by any means, but you might want to watch out for a few asides now and then.

Overall Dip Factor:

This will appeal greatly to kids in the younger YA age group, say 12 to 15 years, because it features very relatable characters and deals with the issues that many kids face when trying to stake out an identity in a crowded social arena.  Also, the story is simple and relevant to anyone who uses the internet for social activities – so I suspect this story will appeal to parents and teachers of readers in this age bracket as well.  In fact, it would probably make a great launching point for discussion in lower secondary classrooms about mindful internet usage amongst young people.

Until next time,

Bruce

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