Books I’m Grateful I Read Giveaway Hop 2015

45

Books-I'm-Grateful-I-Read-Hop

Welcome to my stop on the Books I’m Grateful I Read Hop for 2015, hosted by Stuck in Books and running from November 1st to 14th.  The theme of the hop is fairly obvious I should think, so I have come up with a small selection of the gazillions of books that I am grateful to have read. One winner will be able to choose one book from this selection as their prize.  In the event that the winner chooses one of the books that are part of a series, they have the option of choosing the book that they are up to in the series, rather than the series openers that are pictured here.

boo_Fotor_Collage

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Now hop along and visit some of the other participating blogs!

//widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Powered by Linky Tools

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

Good luck!
Until next time,

Bruce

Imaginary Fred: A KidLit GSQ Review…

1

image

My psyche and I have got a right little gem for you today, courtesy of the kind folk at HarperCollins Australia, by a writing and illustrating duo that will knock your metaphorical socks off.  Imaginary Fred is the combined work of Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers, and two more reliably exciting names in children’s literature you would be hard pressed to find.  Here’s an overview of this delightful and funny picture book, with the blurb from Goodreads, before my I let my  psyche-pals loose…

Did you know that sometimes, with a little electricity, or luck, or even magic, an imaginary friend might appear when you need one? An imaginary friend like Fred. Fred floated like a feather in the wind until Sam, a lonely little boy, wished for him and, together, they found a friendship like no other. The perfect chemistry between Eoin Colfer’s text and Oliver Jeffers’s artwork makes for a dazzlingly original picture book.

imaginary fred

 

 

image

The Good

Being reasonably unfamiliar with Eoin Colfer’s writing (having not actually read any of it, but knowing that he’s right famous among the younglings), the undeniably cheeky illustrations on the cover of this book drew me straight in and forced an “Oh look! It’s an Oliver Jeffers book!”  from my tired, cynical, stony lips.  That signature style of naïve line drawings held the promise of another giggle-inducing read with more than a few unexpected twists along the way.  Happily, this is exactly what Imaginary Fred delivers.

Colfer’s writing divides its time between being touchingly lyrical and abruptly hilarious.  I didn’t quite expect the plot to be so engaging, but the combination of word and image throughout actually had me leaning toward emitting that annoying and oft-used phrase that the young folk use – “Oh, the feels!”  The ending of the book, you understand, takes a turn for the uplifting just when you think everything is going to pot and Fred’s story arc will end just as it always has when his little human friends no longer have any time for him.

So really, this book provides the whole package – a story that will appeal to kids; a word count that will engage young readers who are looking for longer, more involved stories for their parents to read to them and challenge young readers who are branching out into independent reading, as well as illustrations that really bring the story off the page and elevate it to truly memorable heights.

I’m just going to put it out there that Oliver Jeffers has somehow sneakily snuck his way onto my list of favourite illustrators without me even noticing.  Honestly, those facial expressions.  They crack me up every time.  Brilliant.

 

image

The Sad

I’ve nothing to complain about with the story per se, but I do fear that the format of this book may be one that school librarians have an awfully hard time trying to get kids to borrow.  These are the picture books “for slightly older readers”, where the amount of text will put off kids who are still on picture books, but the picture book format will deter kids who could read the text easily, because they don’t want to be seen to be reading books for “little kids” when their peers have moved on to early chapter books.

I’d love to see this released in an early reader format to compliment the picture book format and ensure that ALL the kids get their grubby hands on Imaginary Fred, because it would be a crying shame for anyone to miss out.

 

image

The Quirky

I thoroughly enjoyed the interplay between words and pictures here, as I mentioned before, particularly the instances where keen-eyed readers will be rewarded by easily missed illustrative giggles.  There is a cheeky tip of the hat to Colfer’s and Jeffers’ back catalogue hiding in the middle, an unsuspecting pig who is about to have a very bad day thanks to the alignment of the stars, and various toys and musical instruments that might appear, to the untrained eye, to be defying gravity.

Here’s my favourite illustrative side-note, anyway:

sniffing dogs

Yes, you’re right, I am utterly childish, but for some reason the inclusion of that one, particularly given that it has nothing at all to do with the story, made me laugh and laugh.

So that’s it really.  If you’re a fan of Oliver Jeffers, I can imagine you’re going to rush out and buy this book even if I said it was a pile of old tosh, such is the power of a good illustrator’s work (and rightly so!).  Luckily though, it isn’t a pile of old tosh – quite the opposite in fact – and it has been a lovely and non-onerous introduction for me to Colfer’s work.  I may even pick up one of his big kids’ books now…or at least put one on my TBR pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Land of the Green Man: A Nonfiction “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

3

image

Today’s book is one of those that most people wouldn’t pick up for light reading, but it is a thumping good choice for anyone planning to write a fantasy book set in England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales.  The Land of the Green Man – A Journey through the Supernatural Landscapes of the British Isles by Carolyne Larrington does exactly what it says on the metaphorical tin – and it does so in a super-accessible fashion.  I requested, somewhat warily, this book from the publisher via Netgalley and was pleased and surprised to discover a comprehensive yet not overwhelming overview of the context behind the legends that feature in many a modern fantasy novel.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The folklore of Britain abounds with local tales about the activities of one sort of supernatural being or another giants, elves, hobs, boggarts, dragons or shape-changing witches. The stories are vivid, dramatic and often humorous. Carolyne Larrington has made a representative selection, which she re-tells in a simple, direct way which is completely faithful to the style and spirit of her sources.

Most collectors of local legends have been content merely to note how they may serve to explain some feature of the landscape or to warn of some supernatural danger, but Carolyne Larrington probes more deeply. By perceptive and delicate analysis, she explores their inner meanings. She shows how, through lightly coded metaphors, they deal with the relations of man and woman, master and servant, the living and the dead, the outer semblance and the inner self, mankind and the natural environment. Her fascinating book gives us a fuller insight into the value of our traditional tales.

the land of the green man

I could actually feel my neurons connecting and reinforcing pathways as I read, so here are Five Things I’ve Learned From…

The Land of the Green Man – A Journey through the Supernatural Landscapes of the British Isles

1. If you are walking along the moors/near a church/down a back alley/across a marsh and you see a black dog, the outlook is not likely to be good. Unless of course, you are in one of the few localities in which black dogs are portents of luck and protection, rather than death.

2. If you are walking along the moors/near a church/down a back alley/across a marsh and you see a PACK of black dogs, I have no advice for you, except to say that I hope your will is in order.

3. While a shady tree may look like a promising place under which to have a noontime nap, under no circumstances should you succumb to this incredibly poor idea. 

4. If you happen to be propositioned by a beautiful suitor who you suspect is out of your league, you should probably decline the offer on the grounds that said suitor could well be a hag in disguise, hoping to ensnare you for nefarious purposes.  If, on the other hand, you are propositioned by  someone who would be lucky to make the cover of “Hag Fancier’s Monthly”, you should probably accept on the grounds that your suitor is likely to be a member of fairy royalty under some kind of curse, waiting to reward you with magical bounty aplenty.

5. Never, under any circumstances, piss off a mythical creature.

As I mentioned earlier, this book should be essential reading for anyone planning to draw on British myth and legend in their writing.  Larrington manages to deeply explore the origins of a whole range of myths and legends within the context of various localities.  She notes how certain landscapes and the people who dwell in these have put different spins on similar myths – black dogs, for instance, could be lucky or dangerous, depending on where you hang out; and the part of the country in which you live could see you with giant neighbours who are violent, or cheerfully disinterested in the lives on puny humans.

The content is divided into categories that link legends of a similar vein.  The author also notes how modern authors such as JK Rowling, Susan Cooper and Tolkien have used certain legends in their works.  Sirius Black (or Padfoot, to his friends) has obvious connections to the Black Dog stories of various regions, while The Dark is Rising sequence (among other works) makes use of a reworking of the Sleepers under the Hill legends.

Even if you’re not planning to write the next fantasy bestseller, this is a very involving read for lovers of fantasy who would like to know more about the popular legends and mythical beings that call the British Isles home.  I’m sure other readers will have a few “A-ha!” moments, as I did, upon discovering some snippet of information that showed aspects of some recent reads in a new light.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge Goal: 17/10

Nonfiction 2015Until next time,

Bruce

 

Fiction in 50 October Challenge: A Democratic Prompt…

5

 

Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTONWelcome to all you literary thrill-seekers!  It’s time again for Fiction in 50, the challenge where participants try to squeeze big ideas into tiny word counts.  You may notice the new challenge button at the start of this post. I’ve been having a play around with the challenge button and this is what I came up with…not 100% sure I’m happy with it, but it will do for now.   If you’d like to know more about Fiction in 50 and how to join in, just click on said button and all will be revealed.  Anyway, today’s prompt is super democratic in that YOU, the challenge participant, get to fill in the blank with whatever you’d like to write about.  The prompt is…

beware the button

And I have chosen to make my prompt, “Beware the possibilities in an infinite universe”, which is a bit wordy, I know, but perfect for my requirements.  I have titled my 51-word piece (I just couldn’t edit any more!)….

Philosophy at Work

The livestock were restive.

“You know, I’ve heard they’re at least as smart as dogs.  Do you think they know what’s happening?”

“Nah.”

“Imagine if there was a planet where they were the dominant species and we were the livestock!”

Conveyor belts chugged.  Blades whirred.

 “Humans? Eating pigs? As if.”

I am just bursting to see what you have all come up with for this choose-your-own-adventure prompt!  For those who are organised, next month’s prompt will be…

an unexpected arrival button

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A Fi50 Reminder and a MG DNF that Middle Graders will probably love…

5

image

Just a quick reminder for the eager hordes hoping to join in October’s Fiction in 50 challenge, the prompt for this month is…

beware the button

(You fill in the blank!)

To play along, create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more detailed instructions and future prompts, just click on the button at the top of this post.

Now it’s not often that I choose to give up on a book but today I have one that I just couldn’t push on with.  I normally wouldn’t tell you about books that I didn’t finish on the blog – just quietly give some feedback to the publisher, pop a short, unstarred review on Goodreads and move on with my life – but I’m making an exception with this book because even though it didn’t resonate with me, I think it’s one of those middle grade books that will really appeal to middle graders, but maybe not so much to adults.

I received a copy of The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari (possibly the greatest name ever bestowed on an individual, in my opinion) from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Are you average? Normal? Forgettable? If so, the League of Unexceptional Children is for you! This first book in a hilarious new adventure series is for anyone who’s struggled to be noticed in a sea of above-average overachievers.


What is the League of Unexceptional Children? I’m glad you asked. You didn’t ask? Well, you would have eventually and I hate to waste time. The League of Unexceptional Children is a covert network that uses the nation’s most average, normal, and utterly unexceptional children as spies.

Why the average kids? Why not the brainiacs? Or the beauty queens? Or the jocks? It’s simple: People remember them. But not the unexceptionals. They are the forgotten ones. Until now!

unexceptional children

I was drawn to this book for two reasons: firstly, I’ve got a thing for books with “League” in the title at the moment and secondly, for the resemblance the blurb bore to Patrick Ness’s YA offering The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which builds a plot around a group of kids who are NOT the chosen ones.   I thought this might be a middle grade offering of a similar, quite amusing premise (and it well might be, considering I didn’t finish it, and I haven’t read Ness’s work yet).  The thing is, there was nothing WRONG with the League of Unexceptional Children, it’s just that it didn’t really suit my tastes.

I felt a bit hot and cold on the two main characters, Jonathan and Shelley, as I found about half of their behaviour and dialogue funny, and the other half just plain annoying.  The chapter headings each had a “quote” from an average kid and some of these gave me a giggle and others I just found a bit odd. Similarly, the style of humour in the book just didn’t click with me, even though the plot moved quickly and there was a lot of banter and funny-enough situations in the chapters that I read.

I will admit to losing interest once the “mission” had been explained and that was the deciding factor in my deciding not to finish the book – essentially, the idea of the kids having to save a kidnapped vice president didn’t fire my imagination enough to make me want to invest more time in this one.

I suspect that this is the kind of book that readers in the target age range will probably enjoy due to the fast paced plot and the idea of “average” kids getting a chance to save the day.  For me as an adult reader though, I think Daneshvari succeeded a little too well in making the characters unexceptional.  It’s a case of irreconcilable differences between me and  this book, I’m afraid, but I’d be interested in what others thought of it, especially those in the target age group.

Until next time,

Bruce

Tell The Story to its End: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

3

manical book club button

The team has come together again to bring you our thoughts on an intriguing middle-grade offering that acknowledges the power of stories to manipulate the mundane world.  We received a copy of Tell the Story to its End (which also goes by the title Eren) by Simon P. Clark from the publisher via Netgalley, and were pleased to discover an atmospheric and nicely paced tale that lulls the reader into a place of comfort…or does it? Mwahahahaha!

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

People are keeping secrets from Oli. His mum has brought him to stay with his aunt and uncle in the countryside, but nobody will tell him why his dad where his father is. Why isn’t he with them? Has something happened? Oli has a hundred questions, and only an old, empty house in the middle of an ancient forest for answers. But then he finds a secret of his own: there is a creature that lives in the attic…

Eren is not human.
Eren is hungry for stories.
Eren has been waiting for him.

Sharing his stories with Eren, Oli starts to make sense of what’s happening downstairs with his family. But what if it’s a trap? Soon, Oli must make a choice: learn the truth—or abandon himself to Eren’s world, forever.

Reminiscent of SKELLIG by David Almond and A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness, EREN is richly atmospheric, moving, unsettling, and told in gorgeous prose. A modern classic in the making.

Here are the two versions of the cover:

tell the story to its end

eren

And here’s the Club’s thoughts:

Guru Dave

If you fail to master your words, your wordsmaniacal book club guru dave may become your master.  Such is the power of stories, fables, myths, to change the way we think, the way we act and the way we are.  Are we the product of our ancestors’ stories or do we create our own narrative? What happens to the stories that have faded from human memory? And is the book always better than the movie?  These are the questions that Oli will explore with his new, mysterious friend, Eren. Well. Except for that last one.

Toothless

maniacal book club toothlessThere are no dragons in this book.  But there is a cool talking cat and a king of trees and a strange winged guy called Eren who hides in attics and really likes stories.  He sounds a bit like Bruce really.  There’s not a lot of whiz-bang action in this book.  It would have been better if Eren was the kind of monster that eats people.  There was a cool story about a witch too.  This was an okay book but it would have been better with dragons.

Mad Martha

There once was a boy called Oli,maniacal book club martha

Who truly enjoyed a good sto’ry,

Do he and his friends,

Come to grief in the end?

You’ll just have to read to be sure-y.

*Toothless interjects: Worst. Limerick. Ever. *

Bruce

You know how books often have some comparison on the cover, like “if you liked *insert series name here*, then you’ll love this!” or “for fans of *insert author here*”.  Most of the time, the book ends up being nothing like the assertion, but Tell the Story to its End really IS a lot like the work of David Almond.  If you enjoy the feel of Almond’s work, then I can assure you that this book has a very similar narrative style, comparable pacing and more than a touch of the ol’ magical realism.

This book isn’t going to appeal to all readers in the target age bracket, but will certainly suit those who like a slow-burn mystery and stories-within-stories.  Oli is your average young lad who finds himself suddenly moving to the country with his mother, to live with her brother, for reasons that he’s not exactly clear about.  His mother is keeping some sort of secret about his father, and while Oli puzzles this out, he discovers the mysterious Eren living in the attic.

The addition of two other young folk, Em and Takeru, whom Oli befriends, deepens the plot as local legends are brought to light.  As the situation with Oli’s father comes out in bits and pieces, Oli finds himself drawn more deeply into Eren’s world and influence.  The reader is kept in a cloud of obscurity surrounding who Eren really is and whether he knows more of Oli’s family than he is saying.  The ending was surprising (to me, at least!) but felt quite fitting for the style of story.

The Book Club gives this book:

imageimageimage

Three thumbs up (Toothless wanted more fiery destruction)

I feel pretty safe in corroborating the claim in the blurb, that fans of David Almond should certainly enjoy Clark’s work here.  This is one for those who savour an enigmatic approach to storytelling.

Until next time,

Bruce and the Gang

Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: Trashed…

1

image

Today’s offering in my quest to scale the dizzying heights of oddity is a graphic novel narrative non-fiction tale about that most indispensable yet oft-maligned occupation – rubbish collection.  Trashed by Derf Backderf follows the exploits of a couple of ordinary guys thrust into the extraordinary world of civic garbage disposal through a lack of other opportunities.  Peppered throughout this unexpectedly engaging read is a plethora of information and statistics about the garbage-generating habits of Americans (for the most part) and the not-so-ingenious ways that humans have come up with in order to keep their detritus out of sight and out of mind.

I received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley, and I will be submitting it in the category of books with odd subject matter.  To find out more about the challenge (and join in!) click here.  But let’s not sit around like a stinky old bag waiting for collection day! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Every week we pile our garbage on the curb and it disappears—like magic!

The reality is anything but, of course. Trashed, Derf Backderf’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed, award-winning international bestseller My Friend Dahmer, is an ode to the crap job of all crap jobs—garbage collector. Anyone who has ever been trapped in a soul-sucking gig will relate to this tale.

Trashed follows the raucous escapades of three 20-something friends as they clean the streets of pile after pile of stinking garbage, while battling annoying small-town bureaucrats, bizarre townfolk, sweltering summer heat, and frigid winter storms.

Trashed is fiction, but is inspired by Derf’s own experiences as a garbage­man. Interspersed are nonfiction pages that detail what our garbage is and where it goes. The answers will stun you. Hop on the garbage truck named Betty and ride along with Derf on a journey into the vast, secret world of garbage. Trashed is a hilarious, stomach-churning tale that will leave you laughing and wincing in disbelief.

trashed

Apart from numerous “ew”-inducing scenes and the unrivalled hilarity that is a piano being crunched in a rubbish compactor (oh, the symphony!), there are some incredibly thought-provoking instances in this unexpectedly fascinating read.  At first it felt a bit weird to be presented with nonfiction sections slap in the middle of your typical graphic novel, but these informative little snippets actually raise the book above the common graphic novel herd.  The facts presented about the ways and means of rubbish generation and disposal are both stupefying and scandalous. Reading about the enormity of humanity’s collective garbagey woes gave me pause for thought about the  unimaginable scale of any effort that would have to be undertaken in order to reverse the environmental harms already inflicted and enact positive change for the future.

These sobering facts are deftly balanced by the down-to-earth problems of the main character and his co-workers as they battle exploding maggots, back-breaking hard rubbish items, despotic managers and the problems that come with extremes of weather (ie: garbage bags freezing to the footpath).  Seriously, being splashed with a bit of bin water is the least of their worries.  The characters seem to be vying for the title of “least personable individual”, as along with the aforementioned despotic manager, we meet a collection of garbage workers each with their own idiosyncratic irritating habits (and nickname), a delightfully bizarre cemetery worker, the scariest dog-catcher ever created and a host of citizens who just don’t appreciate the finer points of putting out the correct type of rubbish on the correct day.  By about the end of the first quarter of the book, I can guarantee you will have developed a whole new level of sympathy for those who collect your refuse.

Or at least, those who used to collect your refuse, if you are an Aussie.  Our trucks are all fitted with automatic robot arms to empty the bins – gone are the days of the loveable “garbo” running your rubbish bin to the truck, with the unwritten promise of a six-pack left out at Christmas time as a reward for their essential services.  Honestly, kids of today wouldn’t believe you if you told them – “You left beer out for the garbage man? WTF? That’s so random!”

I would highly recommend having a look at Trashed if you are in the mood for something that will satisfy both your escapist and cerebral urges.  There’s a lot to laugh at in the storyline – in a schadenfreude,
“Gee, I’m glad that’s not me” sort of a way – as well as a lot to ponder.  Just remember to pop it in the recycling bin when you’re finished.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 14/16

Until next time,

Bruce