A “Top Book of 2015” MG Read-it-if Review: Hoodoo…

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If you’ve been wandering around in a fog of “what-do-I-read-next?” then you have stumbled into the right place. I heartily recommend today’s cracking and original tale and I have taken the rather rash and possibly disputable decision to elevate it to a place in my “Top Books of 2015” list. I received a copy of Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith from the publisher via Netgalley. Apart from that stunning cover, this historical tale has folk magic, family secrets, stranger danger, talking crows, dream travelling and one very nasty demon…not to mention the fact that it is a book that could easily slot into the “promoting diversity” category.

But enough with the tantalising descriptions! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Hoodoo Hatcher was born into a family with a rich tradition of practicing folk magic: hoodoo, as most people call it. But even though his name is Hoodoo, he can’t seem to cast a simple spell.   

Then a mysterious man called the Stranger comes to town, and Hoodoo starts dreaming of the dead rising from their graves. Even worse, he soon learns the Stranger is looking for a boy. Not just any boy. A boy named Hoodoo. The entire town is at risk from the Stranger’s black magic, and only Hoodoo can defeat him. He’ll just need to learn how to conjure first.     

Set amid the swamps, red soil, and sweltering heat of small town Alabama in the 1930s, Hoodoo is infused with a big dose of creepiness leavened with gentle humor.    

hoodoo

Read it if:

*you’ve ever had a bad dream that seemed incredibly real…then woken up to discover that it was actually…incredibly real.

*you are possessed of a name that implies characteristics that are absent from your personality

*you’ve ever thought the whole “Stranger Danger” thing is a big overreaction from helicopter parents

*you’ve ever ignored sage advice from a trusted elder. Or a deceased relative.  Or indeed, a talking bird.

What an original little offering this book is! I truly enjoy meeting books that stand out from the thoroughly well used plotlines and characters that have populated middle grade fiction since Moses was a lad. On reading the blurb, one might be forgiven for thinking that this was, in fact, a typical “chosen one finds magic within himself and saves the world” sort of a story, but there are some important details that set this one apart.

First off, this is historical fiction, with events taking place in the 1930s, when segregation was alive and well. The author manages to weave in aspects of the period as well as some nifty little informational nuggets while keeping the plot flowing and the setting authentic. I quite enjoyed the little historical tidbits and as the book is set in the US, there were some interesting things I learned from the tale, such as the use of patterned quilts hung in cottage windows that held secret instructions for slaves escaping via the Underground Railroad. I always liken fiction that teaches you something to a bonus prize you win after you think the game is over.

The sinister elements of this book are very sinister indeed, and I was surprised at how creepy the content got considering that this is a middle grade offering. Apart from the Stranger (who starts off merely unsettling and finishes in full-blown demon possession), old sulphur-boots himself makes an appearance (albeit off-stage) and the second half of the book certainly felt to me like it had a fog of malevolence blanketing the action. The plotline that requires Hoodoo to solve the riddle of the Stranger and use his folk magic to protect himself is tightly woven and will provide a challenge to those who like to puzzle things out along with the hero.

I almost wish that this was part of a series because Hoodoo is such a likeable character, and I really felt like part of his extended family as I followed his adventures. The supporting characters are well developed and there is a distinct theme of loss and re-connection as the story unfolds. The sense of warmth and welcome that exudes from the descriptions of Hoodoo’s home with Mama Frances and the obvious reliance on others that is evident in the community definitely balances out some of the more frightening aspects of the story and provides a consolation for the losses that Hoodoo has experienced in his young life.

Having read a few early reviews of Hoodoo, I do agree with some reviewers that there is something lacking overall in the execution of the tale. While I was highly impressed with the originality of the story and the way in which the author has pulled off the scarier bits, I did feel mildly dissatisfied at the end. Strangely though, I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly was missing or lacking. I did find the pacing to be unusual, with the earlier chapters almost devoid of anything magical at all (except Hoodoo’s first encounter with the Stranger) and the later chapters particularly intense in terms of danger and macabre doings. Perhaps it was this disparity in pacing that put me slightly off, making Hoodoo seem younger than his twelve years in the beginning and much older by the end.

Having said that, this was definitely a stand-out book for me for this year, for its original content, historical setting and the masterful way in which the author has developed the more frightening aspects of the story. This is certainly not a read for the faint-hearted or suggestible, but for advanced middle grade readers of stout heart and steady nerve this would be an excellent choice.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Cheeky Youngsters” Edition…

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It’s time to pull on your chaps and spats again and join me in rounding up some plucky and amusing titles for the younger crowd. Today I have corralled three books – a picture book, a middle grade adventure and a YA graphic novel – and I received copies of each from their respective publishers via Netgalley. Let’s round them up in ascending order of audience age, beginning with….

Worms (Bernard Friot)

Two Sentence Synopsis:worms

A young lad forced to attend a dinner party with his father’s boring colleagues hits on an innovative way to liven up proceedings. But has he underestimated the comedic value of his sneaky plan?

Muster up the motivation because:

This tale will be appreciated by pint-sized pranksters the world over as much for its humour as for its gorgeous retro style illustrations. I particularly enjoyed the expressions on the worms’ faces and then immediately felt guilty, knowing their unhappy fate. There’s not a great deal of text here as the illustrations speak for themselves and the twist at the end of the story will please parent and child alike. I was left mildly disappointed at the story’s ending, as I was hoping for something a bit more unexpected and subversive, but all in all this will be a great addition to the bedtime rotation or for times when the designated bed-time-reading grown-up feels like a tale in which a comeuppance is both sought and provided.

Brand it with:

What happens when you cut a worm in half?; childish pranks; unsavoury savouries

Now for the adventurous middle-grade sorts, we have…

Box 1571 (R. M. Tudor)

Two Sentence Synopsis:box 1571

Ella’s parents’ café is in financial trouble and Ella is finding school a lonely place since her friend Sophie moved away. When Ella discovers a way to solve her parents’ money problems and save the café, she is unwittingly drawn into a game of riddles and unexpected encounters.

Muster up the motivation because:

This feel-good tale is reminiscent of such innocent and unexpected adventures as The Phantom Tollbooth. Box 1571 is perfect for younger middle-grade kids who are looking for some good, old-fashioned escapism – almost literally, as the story involves the main character escaping her problems via a post-office box. The story is episodic in nature and therefore perfect for a classroom or pre-bedtime read-aloud (or read together) and has subtle secondary themes of developing confidence and overcoming social isolation. I did feel there were a few slight plot holes (the most obvious being the seemingly incompatible states of the café having very few customers, yet lots of washing up) and I found Ella’s older brother’s verbally abusive behaviour, particularly toward his mother, a bit too intense for the tone of the rest of the story, but these were only slight niggles. Overall, I found this to be a charming and engaging offering with enough whimsy and derring-do to keep newcomers to this level of reading entertained.

Brand it with:

Lost in the post; what’s in the box?; a cup of tea and a good lie down; #amwriting

And finally, for the teen set, or those just in need of a good dose of ridiculousness, here is…

Teen Boat! The Race for Boatlantis (Dave Roman and John Green)

Two Sentence Synopsis:teenboat

TeenBoat – the teen with the power to transform into a boat when wet – takes part in a competition with the hope of finding the fabled city of Boatlantis. But being a boat and a teen isn’t as glamorous as you might think – especially when a new kid at school threatens TeenBoat’s claim to fame as the only boatkid on the block.

Muster up the motivation because:

This graphic novel really does have all the ANGST of being a teen, coupled with the THRILL of being a boat! Essentially, this one is as hilariously silly as it sounds and perfect for those times when you just need a brain break in a land that always features an unlikely inlet, canal or fjord. This is Saturday morning cartoons in book form. There’s a great twist when Teen Boat discovers what his rival can transform into and Teen Boat’s principal has a good bash at trying to relive his youth while posing as an unconvincing student in order to help find Boatlantis and a long-lost love. TeenBoat is a balm for the jaded soul…or just easy, mindless fun for the slightly bored.

Brand it with:

Teen angst; fabled underwater cities; the life aquatic

Hopefully there’s something there to grab your attention and drag you into a reading-based trance. Stay tuned for Monday when I’ve got another “Top Book of 2015” to add to the pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Scaling Mount TBR: Working Stiff…

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Well, it’s hard to believe, but I’ve just ticked another book off my teetering TBR pile – hooray!  Today I present to you Working Stiff: Two Years, Nonfiction 2015262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek.  I grabbed this one on Kindle special when it was released and then put it off and put it off until I could put it off no more, and so here we are. As this is a memoir, I’m submitting it for the Non-fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader, hence the comfy armchair.

Let’s jump right on in – here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The fearless memoir of a young forensic pathologist’s rookie season as a NYC medical examiner, and the cases, hair-raising and heartbreaking and impossibly complex, that shaped her as both a physician and a mother.

Just two months before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Judy Melinek began her training as a New York City forensic pathologist. With her husband T.J. and their toddler Daniel holding down the home front, Judy threw herself into the fascinating world of death investigation, performing autopsies, investigating death scenes, counseling grieving relatives. Working Stiff chronicles Judy’s two years of training, taking readers behind the police tape of some of the most harrowing deaths in the Big Apple, including a firsthand account of the events of September 11, the subsequent anthrax bio-terrorism attack, and the disastrous crash of American Airlines flight 587.

Lively, action-packed, and loaded with mordant wit, Working Stiff offers a firsthand account of daily life in one of America’s most arduous professions, and the unexpected challenges of shuttling between the domains of the living and the dead. The body never lies, and through the murders, accidents, and suicides that land on her table, Dr. Melinek lays bare the truth behind the glamorized depictions of autopsy work on shows like CSI and Law and Order to reveal the secret story of the real morgue.

working stiff

So regular readers of this blog will know that this sort of book is right up my alley, given my intellectual interest in death and its accoutrements. I had heard great things about this book and was raring to get into it, and for the most part, it delivered on fascination and mystery. What I wasn’t quite prepared for (although why I wasn’t is anyone’s guess, given the subject matter) was the graphic detail with which Melinek approaches the oozing, splatting, deflating, bloating, leaking, mouldering and general squishery that goes hand in withered hand with the human body after death. Especially when you start chopping it up.

Be warned then, that there will be no sparing of the details for the sensitive reader. And rightly so, I suppose, although I did find myself doing some involuntary retching at a few points throughout.

The book is divided up into chapters that deal with different manners of death. The difference between the cause of death and manner of death is spelled out a number of times, as Melinek gets to grips with the paperwork side of the job. This is where the fascination factor is upped considerably as the author walks us through the variations of natural, accidental, homicidal and inconclusive causes of death. We are privy to the autopsies of those who have died from disease, through complications from surgery, gunshot wound, stabbing, burning, drowning, asphyxiation and even a few cases in which the deceased exited this world through no particular cause that the examiners could discern…..those that died of death, I suppose.

Along with all the interesting facts relating to how the examiners can determine different causes of death simply by examining the body (and testing various bits and pieces of it), I found it equally fascinating to find out the actual procedure of an autopsy and what the examiner does with all the body bits while the autopsy is going on. It boggles the mind.

Even though it is clearly stated in the blurb, for some reason I was utterly unprepared for the last section of the book, in which Melinek describes the day of the September 11 terrorist attacks and its aftermath for those involved in post-death services. I found this section to be harrowing, confronting, unsettling and generally unfathomable, as the sheer number of corpses to be identified and the unthinkable circumstances in which some of them came to be in their current condition was really driven home. This part of the book gave a whole new insight into the circumstances of those who work with death on a daily basis and how an unexpected mass casualty event can be chaos not only for those involved, but for those who must deal with the deceased under stressful and distressing circumstances. Hats off to anyone who has worked under such conditions, I say.

Overall I found this to be a deeply involving read and well worth the money to purchase. For anyone who is interested in coronial matters, I would certainly recommend giving this one a go, but be aware that no punches are pulled when the going gets gory.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge Goal: 11/10

*Challenge completed – Woohoo!*

Until next time,

Bruce

Fiction in 50 August Challenge!

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imageRoll up thrill-seekers, for the August edition of Fiction in 50, where risk-takers of all persuasions gather together to attempt the near impossible (or at least, really quite tricky): creating a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words!  If you would like to join in (and we’d love to have you!), simply compose a piece of micro-narrative and add your link to the comments of this post for others to enjoy.  For more detailed instructions, and past and future prompts, just click on that attractive picture at the top of this post.

Our prompt for August is….

calculated risk button

And I have come up with a school-themed story for you this time, which I have titled…

The Stench of Failure

Class 5B knew it would be touch and go. No-Neck Norris wasn’t a teacher you messed with.

That stink bomb flew straight down No-Neck’s collar.

We didn’t know he’d built up a tolerance; a trap for young players.

We changed his nickname after that: No-Mercy Norris

A warning to others.

Risky indeed! But boys will be boys, I’ve heard, just as experienced teachers will always be one step ahead.  You’ve got to hand t to them!

Right then, now it’s your turn.  And don’t forget, if you’re sharing on Twitter, use the hashtag #Fi50.

For the uber-organised, next month’s prompt will be…

life of the party button

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

An Fi50 Reminder…and an Atmospheric Bit of Literary Horror

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imageBefore we crack on with our book for today, I would like to remind all comers that Fiction in 50 for August kicks off on Monday. If you’d like to join in, just compose a fictional piece of writing in fewer than 51 words based on our monthly prompt, and then pop back on Monday to share your link in the comments section.

This month’s prompt is…

calculated risk button

If you’d like more information about the challenge, just click on the challenge button at the top of this post.

Now on to the atmospheric bit of literary horror that I promised in the title.  The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley is an unsettling tale of faith and family and straying from the expected path.  I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it the Loney – that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest. It was impossible to truly know the place. It changed with each influx and retreat, and the neap tides would reveal the skeletons of those who thought they could escape its insidious currents. No one ever went near the water. No one apart from us, that is. I suppose I always knew that what happened there wouldn’t stay hidden for ever, no matter how much I wanted it to. No matter how hard I tried to forget…

the loney

 

The Loney, as much as it was absorbing and haunting, was also a book that left me mildly dissatisfied by the end.

And disoriented.

And fairly creeped out.

Liam, our narrator, is a typical young Catholic lad, caught between the Church, his boyishness and his mother. His older brother Andrew is not all that his mother hoped he would be, experiencing as he does some unidentified developmental delays, and the boys’ mother fervently hopes that her eldest son will be healed by the grace of God, and his mother’s faith. The family and a small number of fellow parishioners travel on a pilgrimage every year to “the Loney” – a remote, unhospitable place that is home to a shrine that Liam’s mother believes will be the site of Hanny’s healing.

The story follows the group as they return to the Loney after a decade’s absence, with a new, more liberal priest in tow. From meeting odd and unreadable village folk to finding a long-hidden room in the house in which they’ve always stayed, the visit is a long, confounding and demoralising experience filled with disappointments and unexpected surprises. Through it all, Liam steadily narrates the events as he sees them as they roll on towards a climax that is both inevitable and utterly out-of-the-blue.

The bulk of the tale are events from Liam’s past and throughout the book the reader is treated to some tantalising pieces of Liam’s present life, wherein the situation is obviously far removed from the events being described. These snippets give us the idea that the relationship between Hanny and Liam in the present day is at odds with what we are being told about their experiences in the past, and this juxtaposition is critical to the events that make up the unexpected ending.

I mentioned earlier that the book left me feeling mildly dissatisfied and that was mainly because I felt that the intertwining of Liam’s past and present could have been used to far better effect if there had been more included about Liam and Hanny’s present relationship. I can’t say too much because it would spoil the ending for future readers, but after I had finished the book I definitely felt like I wanted more of that bit – “that bit” being the events of the last two chapters, which took such a twist that I just wanted more information.

If you are looking for a different sort of a literary read, which focuses deeply on relationships between family members, will be very familiar and relatable to Catholics of a certain age and expertly exudes a haunting and unsettling atmosphere throughout, then I would highly recommend picking up The Loney. And if you do, please tell me what you thought of the reading experience, because I’m still feeling a bit unsettled about it even now.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Shouty Doris interjects during…Aussie debut novel The Bit in Between!

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Shouty Doris interjects

Doris has joined me today for Aussie author Claire Varley’s debut adult contemporary novel, The Bit in Between, which features two mildly confused twentysomethings trying to nut out identity, destiny and love in the Solomon Islands. We received a copy of this book from Pan Macmillan Australia as part of the blog tour for the book’s Australian release – thanks Pan Mac Aus!

As Doris is shelfside today, you can almost be guaranteed that a spoiler of two will slip out. I try to tell her, but you know how she is. You’ve been warned. But let’s get on.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

There are seven billion people in the world. This is the story of two of them.

After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes, quite a lot of vomit, and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.

Immediately.

Inexplicably.

Irrevocably.

With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with ‘happily ever after’.

the bit in between

Now I know that I have a blanket policy of disliking romance books on sight – it comes from having a heart of stone, you see – but I do like to give an affirmative response when asked to review new release contemporary Australian books. This is mostly because I like to keep at least half an eye on what many people are picking up when they wander into a bookshop. So while I was interested in the Solomon Islands setting and the sun-dried tomatoes, particularly, I did have a certain sense of trepidation on entering this story, given that it is advertised as a love story of sorts.

I was happy to discover, however, that The Bit in Between is much more a story about relationships than romance. Phew. Oliver and Alison are an unusual pair, who sort of fall into a spontaneous relationship as much out of a shared sense of ennui as anything else. Oliver is a semi-successful published writer who hates what his publisher did to his debut novel, while Alison is adrift after an unsuccessful relationship with an attractive, narcissistic quasi-poet. I will admit that I didn’t particularly warm to Oliver at all throughout the book, but I became quite fond of Alison by the end.

Shouty Doris interjects

I didn’t like Oliver either. He needed a good kick up the backside with a pointy-toed shoe. Lazy sod. Instead of moping about and whinging about having writer’s block he should have spent his time getting a haircut and a real job. A bit of gainful employment and he wouldn’t have to worry so much about his girlfriend leaving him.

And that Alison! What a nincompoop! What on earth possessed her to take a fancy to that Ed character to begin with? And once she’d escaped from his tedious, self-absorbed clutches, why on earth would she go back?! Young people nowadays! It wouldn’t have happened in my day.

Ahem. Hold on there, Doris. I hadn’t even mentioned Ed yet.

Shouty Doris interjects

Well hurry up then. None of us is getting any younger. At my age, I’m lucky if I make it to the next commercial break.

Yes, well. Once the happy pair decamp to the Solomon Islands, the planned setting of Oliver’s anticipated tour de force, we are introduced to two characters who have the potential to be the most annoying creatures in contemporary literature. Rick is a loud-mouthed, thrill-seeking, hard-drinking American working for an NGO, who befriends Oliver and becomes an entrenched feature in the lives of the two Australians. Ed is Alison’s aforementioned ex-boyfriend who arrives in the Solomons unexpectedly and creates a fair bit of havoc (as well as some truly dreadful poetry).

Out of the two, I much preferred Rick. His interactions never failed to provide a bit of comic relief and I particularly enjoyed his plans to make his (as yet unnamed) band a sound to be reckoned with in the Pacific region and beyond. Similarly, his bout of malaria was quite amusing in both its outrageous enactment and the fact that one couldn’t help but indulge in a bit of schadenfreude. Ed, however, was just a pain in the proverbial. I have to agree with Doris, in that I didn’t find the storyline between Alison and Ed convincing at all, especially considering Alison’s personal growth throughout her time helping local women in the Solomons.

Shouty Doris interjects

A waste of space all round – both the storyline and the bloke.

The part of the book that I enjoyed the most was the inclusion of mini-narratives about minor characters – taxi drivers, passers-by, shop assistants – that gave a hint of these characters’ back stories and provided a bit of an interlude during transitions in the main story.

Shouty Doris interjects

I agree. All of the minor characters’ stories were more interesting than Oliver’s; I’ll tell you that for nothing. Even his ending was ambiguous – like the author couldn’t even be bothered to give him a definitive closing sentence. To be honest, I was hoping for the plane crash he was planning on writing.

That’s a bit harsh, Doris.

Shouty Doris interjects

I’d eject my own seat if I was stuck between him and Ed on a plane.

Well, your animosities for fictional characters aside, the ending to the story is quite ambiguous. I suspect that a particular interpretation is somewhat implied, but I was quite happy to deliberately ignore that interpretation and craft a much more satisfying (to me) ending in my mind. I think people will take what they want to out of the ending, depending on how they feel about the characters and relationships overall.

All in all, this was a strange beast of a read. It has elements of romance, social issues, personal growth, destiny versus decision-making, grief, loss, happiness, achievement and just a touch of something that could be magical realism. For all that though, the fact that I only really connected with one of the main characters made the read not all that it could have been. On the other hand, the variety of elements in the story, and the unexpectedness (unlikeliness?) of some of the events will keep readers on their toes in what will certainly be a great pick for those looking for a holiday romance novel with a bit of real life thrown in.

Shouty Doris interjects

Next time, there should be more about the women, who were the only ones doing anything meaningful, and less about silly blokes who couldn’t change a light bulb between them with an electrified light-bulb changing machine. Honestly, men just drag down a good story.

Present company excepted, of course, eh Doris?

Shouty Doris interjects

Definitely not.

Right. Fine.

Ignore the old bird, try the book.

Until next time,

Bruce

Utopirama!: Knit the Sky…

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Welcome to another Utopirama, wherein we stroll in a calming, light breeze through the flowery fields of tomes thatNonfiction 2015 lift our spirits.  Today I have a book that Mad Martha insisted we review, given that it relates to her chosen hobby of needlecraft.  I am also submitting today’s book for the Non-Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader, in which I am participating, hence the comfy armchair.  We were lucky enough to receive a digital copy of today’s book from the publisher via Netgalley, but we suggest if you’re wanting a copy of this one for yourself, it would be better in print, simply for the tactile nature of the subject matter.

The book is Knit the Sky: A Playful Way of Knitting by Lea Redmond.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Look up from your knitting needles and explore the world around you! That’s the mantra of Lea Redmond, the creative instigator behind Knit the Sky. Challenging herself to capture the changing colors of the sky in her knitting, Redmond loaded up her yarn basket with shades of blue, gray, and white and set out to knit a strip reflecting each day’s shades. In 365 days, she imagines having a one-year weather report in the shape of a scarf. This is just one of 30 adventurous knitting challenges she shares with readers in this whimsical, inspiring collection. These are knitting projects like no other, as the goal is not just to have a finished project but to have a one-of-a-kind piece that tells a story about the knitter’s life experience. Accompanied by basic instructions for all the needed stitches, techniques, and patterns, Knit the Sky is a complete creativity starter kit for any knitter looking for a fresh approach to the craft.

knit the sky

Quick Overview:

The greatest thing about this book is that you can replace the word “Knit” in the title with any crafty word you please and you can still get an enormous amount from the book.  For in Knit the Sky, it’s the process, not the finished product, which is the important thing. Mad Martha doesn’t know how to knit, but I had to listen to her enthuse over the exciting projects in this book and how she could convert them to crochet. There seemed to be only one or two projects in the book that really are specific to knitting – one in which friends cooperate to knit two scarves on one pair of needles springs to mind – but with a bit of creativity, crafty crafters could easily modify these projects to get around that.  Even if you don’t do any crafty endeavour yourself, the book promotes a way of looking at and interacting with the world around you that inspires mindfulness and memory-making.

Another handy thing about the projects here is that the author has suggested numerous variations on each project to inspire you to have a go. For example, with the titular project – knitting a scarf comprised of individual stripes capturing the colour of the sky each day for a year – there’s the ingenious and touching suggestion of instead creating a baby blanket comprised of squares representing the colour of the sky on each day (or near enough to!) of the baby’s time in utero. We experienced a mild thrill of terror at the idea of the “Neighbourhood Cowl” in which the crafter is challenged to go visit all the neighbours on their block and then knit a stripe in the colour of each house, in street order. Then there’s the family projects, like the heirloom idea of beginning a pattern or simple project, and then leaving it safely encased somewhere for future generations to find and complete, and the almost unbearably cutesy idea of the grandparent creating a basket-coloured (or basket-stitched!) woolly hat for themselves, and a berry-coloured woolly hat for each of their grand-offspring!

In all honesty, this book made Mad Martha’s heart sing for the potential it has to promote connection amongst people – family, neighbours, complete strangers – and the flow-on effect of crafting as a means to achieve Utopia.

Utopian Themes:

Knit one, connect one

Crafting positivity

Intergenerational connection

Yarning with strangers

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

 protective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubble

5 out of 5 bubbles for the cosy embrace of a handmade creation

Until next time,

Bruce

 

YA Giveaway Hop!

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I just can’t resist a good giveaway so welcome to my stop on the Young Adult Giveaway Hop hosted by Bookhounds and running from the 14th to the 21st of August.  Contrary to the title of the hop, I will not be giving away a young adult (the postage is too much!) but one winner will be able to choose a YA book of their choice from the Book Depository up to the value of $12AUD.

This giveaway is open internationally provided the BD ships to you for free.  Other Ts and Cs are in the Rafflecopter.

To enter, just click on the link below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And of course, as this is a hop, don’t forget to hop around to the other participating blogs to try to win yourself some loot!

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Good luck!

Bruce

An MG Maniacal Book Club Review (with Extra Gargoyle!): Stonebird….and a Giveaway!

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manical book club button

Welcome one and all to an extra gargoyley Maniacal Book Club review….and GIVEAWAY…for those living in Australia. Sorry everyone else, although I will have an international giveaway kicking off on Friday, so don’t feel too left out. I received a copy of today’s book from its lovely author, Mike Revell, who, on hearing of our stony nature here at the shelf, sent us a SIGNED ARC copy of his debut middle grade, UK fiction novel, Stonebird. Thanks Mr Mike!

For those wishing to enter the giveaway, the link is below the Club’s review. But I won’t keep everyone else waiting, so here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When eleven-year-old Liam moves house to be closer to his grandma, he’s thrown into an unfamiliar place, with a family that seems to be falling apart. Liam doesn’t remember what Grandma was like before she became ill with dementia. He only knows the witch-like old woman who snaps and snarls and eats her birthday cards. He desperately wants to make everything better, but he can’t. Escaping the house one evening, Liam discovers an old stone gargoyle in a rundown church, and his life changes in impossible ways. The gargoyle is alive. It moves unseen in the night, acting out Liam’s stories. And stories can be dangerous things . . . But Grandma’s illness is getting worse, Liam’s mum isn’t coping, and his sister is skipping school. What if the gargoyle is the only thing that can save Liam’s family?

stonebird

Let’s hear from the Book Club!

Guru Dave  maniacal book club guru dave

So many lessons to be learned from the lonely child and the reclusive gargoyle! Can we ever be truly ourselves when we rely on another to fight our battles? To whom can one turn when one feels alone in a sea of hostility and confusion? What hope do we have when our parents need parenting? So many good hearts lost in the dark, wandering the alleyways of sorrow and grief and anger. And over them all watches a creature from another world, a warm heart beating in a chest of stone.

 

 

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book. But there is a huge gargoyle, way bigger than Bruce and Guru Dave and he’s got red eyes and claws and everything! He’s like a protector guardian but he can get really scary too and if you cross Liam, Stonebird might chase you down and eat you! Well, maybe not eat you, but scratch you or something. There’s a cool dog in this book too – Liam’s dog, Jess. And there are some bullies who are really nasty – I wanted Stonebird to eat them. But he doesn’t. It was okay that there wasn’t a dragon in this book because Stonebird was just as cool as a dragon.

 

Mad Martha  maniacal book club martha

If you possessed a magic egg

what magic would it do?

Could your special magic egg

Your errors all undo?

Or would you use it just for good

and help those close to you?

Perhaps your enemies you’d smite

Your tormentors, subdue.

The choice is yours, and so ensure

You stop and think this through:

If you possessed a magic egg,

What magic would it do?

maniacal book club bruceBruce

I must start off by saying that Stonebird is a handsome old brute! Obviously, as a Bookshelf Gargoyle, I am of a different family of stone creature than Stonebird, but I do envy his stately proportions and ability to perch regally on rooftops. That aside, it was wonderful to read another book wherein my kin are central to the story. There are so few around and I’m not sure why, for we provide so much atmosphere and gravitas. But I digress.

Stonebird is of that exciting category of books that feature important and difficult subjects pitched at just the right level for a middle grade audience. In this particular case, Revell touches on dementia and the experience of grief, loss and confusion that can envelop those close to the sufferer even while the sufferer is still alive; bullying, its effects and possible causes; parenting, and the effects of prolonged stress on a parent’s ability to relate to their children; among other things. There is a lot going on here besides an exciting fantasy tale about a gargoyle who can protect a boy with the help of a possibly magical egg.

I’m going to mark this one down as magical realism, rather than fantasy, because while there are obviously fantastical elements, the focus of this book is the authentic portrayal of a young lad trying to solve problems that are beyond his age and ken. This could have been a great, engaging and thought-provoking read even without the addition of a (handsome, powerful) member of my species, but the magical elements provide the cherry on top of the icing on a cake of quality reading.

As the main character is male, and there is a significant plotline of boy-to-boy bullying running through Liam’s story arc, I am certain this will appeal to young male readers, while young female readers will be drawn in by the inclusion of a storyline relating to Liam’s grandmother in her early teen years. As a considerable amount of the story takes place in the classroom, this would also be a fantastically engaging pick as a class read-aloud for around grades five to seven.

If you only read one book featuring a strong, silent, gargoyley type this year, make it this one!

The Maniacal Book Club gives this book:

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Six thumbs up! (Guru Dave and I gave it two thumbs each…)

Now, for the giveaway! If you are an Australian resident, you are welcome to enter to win a paperback copy of Stonebird by Mike Revell. Just click on the Rafflecopter link below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

*Bruce just ticked another book off Mount TBR!*

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Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Mysterious and Intriguing” MG and YA Edition…(featuring a Top Book of 2015!)

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Well I hope nobody’s still saddle sore from Friday’s Round-Up because today I have three YA and MG titles that you are definitely going to want to hitch to your TBR post. I received all three from their respective publishers via Netgalley and was pleasantly surprised to find them to be thoroughly enjoyable, with a sense of the unexplained. In fact, I enjoyed one of them so much, it has made my list of TOP BOOKS OF 2015! On that exciting note, let’s ride on in!

First up, we have a YA title featuring multiple contributors and a quick, relatable read.

M is for Autism (The Students of Limpsfield Grange School and Vicky Martin)

Two Sentence Synopsis: M is for autism

M isn’t sure why she sees things differently from other people but it certainly makes things harder for her to fit in with her peers. With the possibility of a medical diagnosis looming, M wonders whether a label will help her blend in…or make her stick out even more.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is unlike any book you’ve read with a main character who displays characteristics on the Autistic Spectrum. For a start, the main character is female, and as you delve into M’s readable-in-one-sitting journey, it is highly likely that you will recognise many of M’s fears, experiences and characteristics as similar to those you might have personally experienced or displayed. With eye-dazzling illustrations dotted throughout giving a glimpse into M’s inner turmoil, this book is a highly polished piece of work that will appeal greatly to teenagers who feel like they don’t fit in, as much as it will to older readers looking for an original take on an “autism” novel. The experiences of M’s mother are also realistically portrayed and it was intriguing to see how M internalised her family’s reactions to her behaviour. I highly recommend this book to everyone: it won’t take you long to get through, but it will leave you with some things to ponder well after you’ve finished.

Brand it with:

Sisters doing it for themselves, square peg/round hole, parental freakouts

Next up, as promised on Friday, we have everyone’s favourite stinky monster: Bigfoot!

Sasquatch (Andrea Schicke Hirsch)

Two Sentence Synopsis:sasquatch

Since his parents’ divorce, Jake elected to live with his dad, which means moving to his late Uncle Horace’s cabin in the deep woods of a tiny town. Uncle Horace was known as the town crackpot because of his fascination with Sasquatch and his belief that one lived in the very woods surrounding Jake’s new home – but with malodorous wafts, strange calls in the night and even stranger happenings when he goes walking in the woods, Jake’s not so sure his uncle was crazy after all.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s rare to find a YA novel with a strong male protagonist who isn’t either bully or bullied, labelled as a nerd or a jock, and who possesses confidence and the ability to look after himself and manage his own emotions. Plus, it’s about Bigfoots (Bigfeet?). There was something very refreshing about this novel and I suspect it has something to do with the fact that it steered away from the overused YA tropes I’ve mentioned above and just stuck to good old-fashioned, realistic monster hunting. Of course, one can’t spend all one’s time hunting Sasquatch and there are plenty of non-monster related problems that Jake gets himself into with his new neighbours and friends and the book is better for it. The author has managed to blend the “real-life” issues of a young lad with a mythical overlay and realistic characters and the result is a quality read. Overall, this is a fun, engaging novel with a fantasy edge, some satisfying twists and authentic portrayals of teenagers left to their own devices with a mythical beast (possibly) on the loose.

Brand it with:

Who cut the cheese?, love lies bleeding, live and let live, revenge served hot

Finally, onto our middle-grade offering for today and one of my…..TOP BOOKS OF 2015!

Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods: Twenty Chilling Tales from the Wilderness (Hal Johnson and Tom Mead)

Two Sentence Synopsis: creatures of the lumberwoods 2

Reader, find in this tome the true-life stories of fantastical beasts that roam the North American landscape. From the Gumberoo to the Hodag, and the Snoligoster to the Timberdoodle (although this one only gets a passing mention), everyone’s favourite obscure mythical beasts are given their terrifying due in this not-to-be-missed instructional guide.

Muster up the motivation because:

The disarmingly hilarious turns of phrase, dry humour that creeps up and forces a chuckle and running joke about the French will have you giggling unexpectedly and furrowing your brow by turns in equal measure. This illustrated collection of tall tales is like Monty Python for nine-year-olds. The book is beautifully presented (although I did have MAJOR issues reading this on both Adobe Digital Editions and Bluefire Reader – perhaps due to the large file size) and deserves to be read in print. The individual stories are short enough to dip into before bedtime but long enough to leave a lasting imprint on the individual’s psyche. I’m certain the image of one hunter, returning to civilisation “brokenhearted, with only a timberdoodle in his sack” will be one I cherish for some time to come. Same goes for the killing technique of the deadly Snoligoster, the effect of which, according to the author, is “quite delightful to watch, but also tragic and disgusting”. I heartily recommend this new imagining of an old work to intrepid, confident young readers in about grades 4 to 7, and to adults with a sense of humour of around the same age.

Brand it with:

Tall tales, if you go down to the woods today, instructional guides

So there you have it. I will admit to a bit of cheekiness, hiding one of my TOP BOOKS OF 2015 within a Round-Up, but I like to keep you on your toes and see who’s really paying attention. I have gone on a bit in this Round-Up, but occasionally you find some real gems out there but can’t necessarily fit them in to the individual posting schedule, and these three warrant a bit of long-windedness. I hope you find something here to please.

Until next time,

Bruce