A Double-Dip Review to Make Your Skin Crawl: Humans as Monsters (and two more Top Books of 2015!)

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I hope you’ve chosen the most fortifying snack you can think of, because today’s Double-Dip is truly monstrous. I’ve got one adult fiction (or at the very least, upper YA) from one of my new favourite authors and a super-original YA nightmare-scape jaunt from an Australian author. The first, Monsters by Emerald Fennell, I acquired under my favourite author auto-buy policy and the second, In the Skin of a Monster by Kathryn Barker, I won in a competition from the publisher Allen & Unwin.

I also have to tell you that both of these books are making my Top Books of 2015 list for originality and the unexpectedness of their respective storylines.

First up: Monsters by Emerald Fennell. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Set in the Cornish town of Fowey, all is not as idyllic as the beautiful seaside town might seem. The body of a young woman is discovered in the nets of a fishing boat. It is established that the woman was murdered. Most are shocked and horrified. But there is somebody who is not – a twelve-year-old girl. She is delighted; she loves murders. Soon she is questioning the inhabitants of the town in her own personal investigation. But it is a bit boring on her own. Then Miles Giffard, a similarly odd twelve-year-old boy, arrives in Fowey with his mother, and they start investigating together. Oh, and also playing games that re-enact the murders. Just for fun, you understand… A book about two twelve-year-olds that is definitely not for kids.

Dip into it for…monsters

…exactly what it says on the tin: Murderous minors, suspect elders and some seriously twisted behaviour. The unnamed young narrator is reasonably unlikeable – although as the story progressed I did gain a smidgeon of sympathy for her – and her new friend Miles is one of those kids that you would definitely NOT want to have to sit next to at school (even if he wasn’t homeschooled). The tone is very matter-of-fact and the tale baldly told which suits the highly suspicious goings-on perfectly. Contrary to what you might expect from the blurb, there isn’t a great deal of gore and blood-splatter here, but there is definitely an undercurrent of mind*uckery. The ending also hit me for six – it was unexpected and quite fitting, to say the least.

Don’t dip if…

you think this is a light-hearted tale featuring rambunctious pre-teens. There are references to sex, abuse, violence and even some quite ribald language, so this is not a book aimed at a middle grade audience. Similarly, if you don’t like seeing animals harmed in books (never mind about the people), there are some parts of this story you will need to avoid.

Overall Dip Factor

I had been anticipating Monster’s release since I first heard about it, way back when it didn’t even have a cover. I can’t say that this is a book I “enjoyed” – it was too uncomfortable a read for that – but I was certainly impressed with this change in direction from Fennell’s earlier works. It reminded me a lot of Rotters by Daniel Kraus, a book that was similarly creepy and stomach-churning, with elements that made it highly memorable and compelling, if not necessarily agreeable to a tender constitution. I will be hugely interested to see what else Fennell comes out with if Monsters and the Shiverton Hall books are any indicator of her talent.

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*Bruce just chiselled another book out of Mount TBR!*

Now on to In the Skin of a Monster by Kathryn Barker. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Three years ago, Alice’s identical twin sister took a gun to school and killed seven innocent kids; now Alice wears the same face as a monster. She’s struggling with her identity, and with life in the small Australian town where everyone was touched by the tragedy. Just as Alice thinks things can’t get much worse, she encounters her sister on a deserted highway. But all is not what it seems, and Alice soon discovers that she has stepped into a different reality, a dream world, where she’s trapped with the nightmares of everyone in the community. Here Alice is forced to confront the true impact of everything that happened the day her twin sister took a gun to school … and to reveal her own secret to the boy who hates her most.

Dip into it for…in the skin of a monster

…an unexpected tale that blends mental health, identity and the power of dreams (and nightmares) in a highly engaging tale that will greatly appeal to readers of YA. The first few chapters of the book dump the reader in the deep end a bit, with an immediate introduction to the strange dreamscape that Alice eventually finds herself in, but once the initial world-building is out of the way and the dreamscape exchange set up, the plot rolls along at a hurried pace. The changing points of view between Lux and Alice work well to drip-feed the reader the information they need to keep half a step ahead of the characters and attempt to puzzle out the scenario before the surprising ending.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for a standard, chirpy YA plot that hands you all the answers and leaves you with a predictable outcome. This book has a slow burn plot and the reader needs a switched-on brain to avoid missing important links as Alice’s story unravels. Similarly, if you’re looking for a typical YA romance plotline where the rugged loner boy falls madly in love with the broken, honest girl you will be sorely disappointed – the romance in this one is much more authentic and surprising than that.

Overall Dip Factor:

I found this to be a bit of a challenge in the beginning, as the reader really is dumped in the deep end of the dreamscape and is forced to hang in there (along with the characters!) until things start to become clearer.   I was super impressed with the way that Barker has steered clear of the expected fantasy/paranormal tropes and delivered both a world and storyline that is deeper and more challenging than is typically found in YA. The use of twins – one a murderer and the other left to remind the town of a murderer whenever they see her face – was clever and the themes of identity, individuality and our responsibility to those we love is seriously explored in Alice’s recounting of events to her deceased sister. Barker doesn’t neglect the minor characters either – a number of other innocent victims’ back stories are considered here, with the consequences of Alice’s sisters’ actions played out in reality and in the land of nightmares. In the Skin of a Monster is one of the most original, compelling and thought-provoking YA reads I’ve encountered in a while, with the added bonus of a touch of fantasy and a genuine philosophical reflection on the ramifications of our actions…and inaction.

So what do you think of these little beauties? Are they good enough to make YOUR Top Books of 2015 list? Let me know what you think!
Until next time,

Bruce

 

Don’t be a Party Pooper: Join in Fiction in 50!

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It’s time for the September Fiction in 50 challenge and if you’re game, we challenge you to join in! Just create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than fifty-one words based on our prompt and then post your link in the comments of this post.  For more detailed instructions, click on the attractive button at the top of this post.

This month’s prompt is:

life of the party button

So don’t be a party pooper (although apparently every party needs one) and join in!

This month, my contribution is titled…

The Gift, Unlooked For

Vindictus Sage, budding evil genius, regarded the festivities dispassionately.

“Join the party, Vinnie!” Ever-jolly Aunty Susan threw him a small, coloured object.

Blanching at the despised nickname, Vindictus examined the object: a confetti-launching device.

Vindictus smiled, a watery grimace.

Here, at last, the final piece of his most abominable invention.

Don’t forget, if you’re sharing on Twitter, to use the hashtag #Fi50.

For those who like to be prepared, we have a democratic prompt for October:

beware the button

You fill in the blank!

Can’t wait to see what you’ve all come up with this month!

Until next time,

Bruce

Looking for a Writing Challenge? An Fi50 Reminder…

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imageIt’s on again! Fiction in 50 for September will kick off on Monday with the prompt:

life of the party button

We’d love you to join in!  All you have to do is create a piece of fiction or poetry related to the prompt in under 51 words.  For more detailed instructions and future prompts, just click on the picture at the top of this post.

Please share the challenge around your social media networks – we’d love to have some more participants each month!

Until next time,

Bruce

Yarning with Mad Martha about…Crochet Your Own Adventure (Let’s Go Camping!)..

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I’m excited.

If you enjoy the outdoors, camping or textile crafts of any kind, then I have something today that will make your year.   It’s a crochet book by Kate Bruning (a canny Australian, don’t you know?) and it’s called Let’s Go Camping! From Cabins to Caravans Crochet Your Own Camping Adventure.

Finally!

A way to enjoy camping without having to worry about getting that horrid smoky smell out of my dreadlocks!

Now I know that title alone would have you bouncing on the balls of your feet and I will admit to being more than a little feverish when I discovered that Simon & Schuster Australia were deigning to send me a copy, but try and contain your excitement while you read the blurb – there’s plenty of time yet for giddy flailing!

Go glamping without the threat of unpredictable weather and nasty creepy crawlies, and instead crochet your own adorable camping scene that will keep any child entertained for hours and celebrate all that is great about camping.

Reminiscent of vintage camping memorabilia, you can create a nostalgic collection of crochet projects encompassing all aspects of outdoor life.

With mix and match projects ranging from vintage or Airstream caravans and ice cream trucks, to tents and teepees with all the camping paraphernalia of sleeping bags, backpacks and a log fire, as well as mountain and forest scenery you can create your own outdoor world. Or why not craft an alternative camping scene with a classic narrow boat, or a wooden lakeside cabin which can open up to reveal immaculately decorated insides.

Instructions for play mats will give children a fantastic base for playing, allowing them to create games and stimulate their own imagination.

let's go camping cover

Isn’t that cover scene just gorgeous? Being an avid crochet fan, I was itching to get at this tome and I nearly wept with joy at the innocent, light-hearted jollity with which the little Playmobil people were going about their outdoorsy business. The further I flicked through the playscenes, the more I was transported back to a simpler time when families had time to spend together and it didn’t really matter if dad insisted on wearing that silly towelling hat and tiny shorts, embarrassing you in front of the people from two caravans over.

Clearly, my crochet hooks could not remain inactive with such whimsical fun waiting to be created and so I dived into the patterns. Before I get into the technical nitty gritty, allow me to show you the fruits of my labour, as enjoyed by Bruce, Toothless and some Kiwi backpacker named Jono they picked up along the way:

camping wide shot 2_Fotor

As you can see, with the help of this book, I was able to create a natural, camping utopia in the climate-controlled environment of our own shelf! What a joy to see the excitement on Bruce’s stony face as he realised I could bring the outside in! Honestly, it’s moments like that that make this worthwhile.

Clearly, I only made a selection of things from the book – specifically the tent, the campfire, a mountain, a bobble hat and a scarf. I also whipped up a sun hat for Bruce to my own pattern. And while this picture may give the impression of a sweet, countryside idyll, it was about four rounds into completing the mountain – the first pattern that I tackled –that I realised that those of us who have taken up crafting since the advent of the internet have indeed been spoiled by sites like Pinterest and Youtube.

You see, when grabbing patterns from the internet, one often has the benefit of picture or video tutorials. This book was written in plain patterns and while this might be fine for more experienced crochet crafters, I suspect it would create steep learning curve for beginners.

I consider myself to be moderately skilled at crochet, but even I had some difficulties with items I thought I would find easy. Consider the mountain – mine being on the left and the image from the book on the right…

mountain_Fotor_Fotor_Collage

…while they are pretty close and I am happy with my finished mountain, I admit to wanting to stab myself in the eye with the crochet hook at multiple points during the making of it. This particular pattern has a number of fiddly bits that need to be sewn into the body of the pattern and without the benefit of imagery to guide me, I found it very tricky to figure out exactly how and where the insets were meant to be added.

Here’s my finished campfire, the crowning glory of our pretend camping adventure:

jonos bobble hat_Fotor

Again, I’m quite happy with the finished product, but again, it was fiddly and required a lot of sewing and the inclusion of a few bamboo skewers, which turned out to be more of a trial than I had anticipated. This was not the only project in the book that required bamboo skewers. The tent – which I found the easiest pattern to follow – also needed bamboo skewers added to create the structure (as well as straws, but I didn’t have any straws and frankly couldn’t be bothered going out to buy any).

Easy peasy, thought I, despite my experiences with the campfire logs.

Yeah. Not so much.

Although, I have always wanted to have one of those Pinterest “Nailed It!” photos to my name and making this tent allowed me to do it. Behold!

meme tent

So yeah, there were a lot of bits in the book that I found trickier than I thought they would be. Other bits, such as the hats and scarf, were great fun and super easy to complete. Toothless’s scarf was but the work of a moment and it was nothing at all to add a few tassels as requested by the recipient:

toothless scarf

Overall, I am very pleased to have found this book, but I would caution against jumping into the projects contained therein without proper preparation. The book suggests particular yarns and hook sizes, which I completely ignored because (a) I’m a rebel and (b) as I mentioned before, the whole “going out to purchase supplies” bother, but I have learned that following the pattern INCLUDING paying attention to the suggested materials often reaps better results.

Also, these patterns are probably going to take more time than you think, when you factor in the fiddly finishing off bits. But a book like this will just keep on giving when you consider that apart from giving detailed instructions for the creation of all manner of really cool items that can be used as toys, props and gifts, it is just a delight to flick through – both for aesthetics and inspiration.

I have to say thanks again to S&S Australia for providing me with a copy – you can be sure I’m not finished with the patterns just yet. We’re moving into summer after all.

Ice cream truck, anyone?

Yours in yarn,

Mad Martha

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The Comic/YA/Nonfiction/Picture Book Edition…

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I hope you’ve brought your lasso and a particularly fast horse because today’s Round-Up books are ranging all over the Generic Plains. I received all of these books from their respective publishers via Netgalley, and in this collection we have a set of comics, a YA fantasy, fairy-tale retelling featuring the undead, an almost-wordless picture book and a handy guide for making work a lot more interesting. Saddle up and let’s bring these wildbooks in!

Deep Dark Fears (Fran Krause)

Two Sentence Synopsis:deep dark fears

This collection of 100 comic strips explores the irrational and unlikely fears that many of us keep quietly to ourselves, to avoid being thought mad. You may end up recognising yourself in these pages or, on the other hand, if you’re the suggestible type, you might pick up a few extra fears to go in your emotional baggage.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a beguiling, sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching, easy-to-peruse collection that would no doubt inspire some classic reactions were you to place it in a conspicuous place and watch people sneak a look. The fears run the gamut from those (I assume) are secretly shared by many, such as running to make a train, then worrying that you actually meant to miss it and will no doubt now be involved in a train wreck, to the (I assume) more obscure and idiosyncratic, such as worrying about falling, biting off one’s own tongue and then being unable to clearly annunciate to the emergency services what the problem is. The illustrations are just charming and lend a wonderful air of levity to the fears. If I were a doctor, or indeed, trained in any profession which requires a waiting room, I would definitely leave this book lying around there to see who picked it up. My favourite fears in this collection are the imposter dogs, the not-immediately-apparent dangers of cookie cutters and the sad past history of mall cops.

Brand it with:

Art imitating life, unnamed fears, schadenfreude

Once Upon a Zombie #1: The Colour of Fear (Billy Phillips & Jenny Nissenson)

Two Sentence Synopsis:once upon a zombie

After Caitlin’s mother disappears, she moves to London with her father and younger sister for a fresh start, a new school and time spent writing for a website detailing the unexplained. When strange sightings are reported in cemeteries around the world however, Caitlin is drawn into a bizarre and chaotic world where fairy tales and nightmares might just come true…if the zombies don’t get you first.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you’re a fan of fairy tale retellings and comedy zombie tales (zom-edy tales?) then you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. The story begins in a fairly YA typical fashion, with Caitlin trying to make her way in a new school, clashing with the popular girls and vying for the attentions of the cutest boy.   It also becomes apparent that Caitlin suffers from social anxiety and the author describes this quite well throughout the various situations that Cailtin finds herself in. I enjoyed the riddle of the cemetery disturbances and once Caitlin “goes down the rabbit hole”, so to speak, the action becomes a lot less typical. While the story is light and filled with humour and banter, there are a bunch of different fairy tale and classic storybook characters included, as well as an undead plague plotline, so I did feel that things started to get a bit unwieldy at certain points. If you enjoy YA that is two-parts expected and one-part nutty, then you’ll get a good kick out of Caitlin’s adventures. This is a book that aims for enjoyment and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Brand it with:

Undead princesses, carnivorous plants, stay off the drugs and stay in school

Moletown (Torben Kuhlmann)

Two Sentence Synopsis:moletown

At first the mole was alone in the meadow but once progress arrives, the mole’s world changes almost beyond recognition. Will the mole be able to hang on to what matters most?

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a beautifully imagined, almost wordless picture book reminiscent of the work of Shaun Tan. The illustrations are atmospheric, with an earthy colour palette that encompasses both the natural environment of the mole’s original habitat, and the dark, dingy pollution brought by progress. The ending is hopeful but poignant and perfectly reflects the challenges of sustainability in a coal-driven world. Moletown would be a canny and engaging choice for the primary classroom exploring environmentalism and the challenges of preserving natural environment in the face of continued urbanisation.

Brand it with:

Scratching the surface, Get out of my personal space, cosy burrows

Tiny Games for Work (Hide Seek)

Two Sentence Synopsis:tiny games for work

Bored at work? This handy pocket guide will provide a wide range of exciting, subversive games to help break the shackles of toil-related monotony.

Muster up the motivation because:

No place of work should be without this compact, enlivening guide. This is a collection of games that can be played alone or in company, within meetings or with (or against!) unsuspecting customers. The games use few or no resources and range from the harmless and hilarious, to the actually quite questionable and likely to get you fired. At the back of the book is a handy index that lists the games under various categories – feeling competitive? Stuck at your desk? – for quick reference. I particularly enjoyed the games designed to be played within meetings – who hasn’t wanted to get back at that annoying brown-noser who won’t stop asking irrelevant, meeting prolonging questions? – and those played using customers as unwitting pawns. The game called “Triangulation”, in which the employee must keep an equal distance at all times between two unsuspecting customers is one that I would quite like to try and, like many of the games here, could be modified to be played outside of a work setting, using the general public. If you happen to work somewhere that could do with some subversive excitement, you could do a lot worse than purchase a copy of this book and share it with likeminded colleagues.

Brand it with:

You lose, watch out Beadle’s about, making one’s own fun, WH&S

So there you have it – a variety of tomes just waiting to be caught, tamed and made to serve humans.  Do tell if there’s any that has taken your fancy!

Until next time,

Bruce

Stuck in a Good Book 2015 Giveaway Hop…

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Welcome to my stop on the Stuck in a Good Book giveaway hop hosted by Stuck in Books and I Am a Reader, Not a Writer.  The hop runs from September 20-25th and there are many blogs participating, so don’t forget to hop along and enter to win more stuff.  The linky list for other participants is at the end of this post.

So the theme for this one is books that you got stuck in, so I am going to give away one book from my Top Books of 2015 (so far) list to one winner.  Here is an attractive collage of the books the winner can choose from:

stuck in a good book hop_Fotor_Collage

My giveaway is open internationally, provided the Book Depository ships to your country for free.  Other Ts & Cs are in the Rafflecopter form.  To enter, click this link:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And the linky list of other participating blogs is here:

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Powered by Linky Tools

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

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

A Mythological MG Mystery, Read-it-if Review: The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB…

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Welcome to another Read-it-if Review, where the decision regarding whether to add another book to your tottering TBR pile is made simple by the perusal of a short, attemptedly witty collection of bullet points. Today I have a diverting middle grade read which features Norse mythology, Russian folklore, talking animals and two clued in kid detectives. We received The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB by Adam Shaughnessy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“What is the Unbelievable FIB?”  

That’s the question eleven-year-old Prudence Potts discovers on a baffling card no one else in Middleton–except ABE, a new kid with a knack for solving riddles–seems to see. Then a mysterious man asks for ABE and Pru’s help investigating mythical beings infiltrating the town, and that’s just one of the things Pru finds hard to believe.

Soon Pru and ABE discover another world beneath the surface of their quiet town, where Viking gods lurk just out of sight. They must race to secure the Eye of Odin, source of all knowledge–and the key to stopping a war that could destroy both human and immortal realms.

Author Adam Shaughnessy draws from classic lore to create a new world where uncertainty opens the door to magic and the last thing you should do is believe your own eyes.

the ubelievable fib

Read it if:

*you believe chicken feet would be a savvy renovation addition for your current dwelling

*you are a dab hand at riddle-solving, and would be over-the-moon (as opposed to mildly confused or completely creeped out) to find a mysterious note from an unnamed stranger in your backpack

*you are convinced that hanging out at the local watchhouse and chatting to interesting inmates will reap benefits in an as yet unimagined future scenario

*you really love middle grade fiction that is fun, fast-paced and cleverly blends myth, fairy tale and good old fashioned detective work

I was pleasantly surprised by the Unbelievable FIB in that it was a while between when I requested it for review and when I actually got to reading it, so I had forgotten that it featured Norse mythology. Now, I haven’t read many books featuring Norse mythology, so this felt quite fresh and shiny-new. I can’t say if it would feel the same for seasoned readers of Norse-mythology-based books, but the blend of the mythological with elements of the Baba Yaga fairy tale really set off the exciting, puzzling detective bits of the story.

Pru and ABE are both likeable characters and neither felt particularly clichéd to me, which is always a relief. Pru is an intrepid, cheeky, forthright young lady who has recently experienced the loss of her father, a police detective, while ABE is the reserved, quietly clever, new kid in town. Together, their skills complement each other and provide all the resources necessary to get to the bottom of some of the stranger happenings that have been occurring around town. There are also enough eccentric and shady adult characters here to keep the kids (and the reader!) on their toes regarding who can be trusted – there’s Pru and ABE’s teacher, the pompous Mrs Edleman; the kindly Fay Loningtime; the enigmatic and reclusive Old Man Grimnir; the dashing and unexpected Mister Fox and a very odd looking customer residing in the town’s watchhouse.

The author has done a great job of keeping the explanations of the more complex aspects of Norse mythology contained within the story. The various salient parts of the myths are related in a variety of ways – through a story read for the main character’s homework, for instance – which avoids any slowing of the plot while important world-building and background knowledge is given. Shaughnessy has also employed a light and humorous tone throughout, with lots of banter and quippery, which made this story very enjoyable to wander through.

Overall, this story felt like a breath of fresh air in the crowded marketplace of middle grade fiction, in which one often comes across the same sorts of stories told in similar sorts of ways. While this isn’t so outrageously original it blew my mind, it was definitely different enough from other recent releases that it made me sit up and take notice.  If you have a young reader in your midst who loves solving mysteries and enjoys a bit of fantastical adventure, then I would definitely recommend placing The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB in their hands…or at least within easy reach.

Until next time,

Bruce