Yarning with Mad Martha about…New Adventures for Grug (+ a free Grug crochet pattern!)

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I’m very pleased to be with you today to chat about some new release books featuring everyone’s favourite bipedal Burrawang tree – Grug!  If you are not familiar with Grug, I am assuming it is because you live outside of Australia, because Grug is an Aussie icon of some 36 years standing, and today, thanks to Simon & Schuster (Grug’s publisher since 2009) I can present to you Grug Gets Lost and Grug Meets a Dinosaur.

If this weren’t exciting enough, I have also knocked together a free crochet pattern so that YOU can make your VERY OWN GRUG! (Provided you know how to crochet, of course).

For those still scratching their heads, Grug is a peaceful, industrious little bush creature who gained sentience when the top of a Burrawang tree fell to the ground.  Here is a Burrawang tree:

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And here is Grug:

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And here’s the little Grug that you could make for yourself, posing with his two latest adventures:

grug and books completed

In Grug Gets Lost, poor old Grug is returning home with his shopping basket when he detours around a fallen log blocking the path and ends up grug-gets-lost-9781925030518_lgin a part of the bush he’s never been before.  Grug becomes a bit nervous as the dark shadows play tricks on his eyes and he ends up spending the night alone in the bush.  Come morning though, our grassy hero navigates his way safely back to his cosy burrow to unpack his shopping.

This book quickly became the older mini-fleshling’s favourite read of the moment, which was a surprise to we shelf-dwellers.  We have tried to enamour him of Grug before and it never worked, but for some reason this particular adventure has turned him into a die-hard Grug fan!  Grug Gets Lost actually manages to pack an emotional roller coaster into just a few pages but this is tempered by Grug’s calm, assured attitude to life.  As always, our hero takes things as they come and we, as readers, are reassured that things will likely turn out well in the end.

In Grug Meets a Dinosaur, Grug is on his way for a swim in the creek whengrug-meets-a-dinosaur-9781925030525_lg he stumbles upon a creature resembling a dinosaur, sitting on a rock.  After a comedy of errors in which Grug and “dinosaur” engage in an ungainly two-step of chase and escape, Cara, Grug’s python friend, points out that the dinosaur is, in fact, a goanna and we are again reassured – mostly through Cara’s laconic acknowledgement of the fact – that nothing was ever amiss.

This one also warranted a few re-readings, but the mini-fleshling was most impressed with the list of Grug back-titles on offer inside the back cover of the book.  Having the opportunity to re-engage with Grug as a grown-up and seeing a whole new generations’ enjoyment of this unique character has been great fun.  While all around us the world seems to be going mad, at least we have Grug – steadfast, reassuring, low-tech Grug (although he does have his own website!) – to turn back to.

And the small size of the books makes them perfect as stocking fillers, don’t you think?

A meeting of the minds

A meeting of the minds

Now, if you aren’t a yarny type, you can probably finish reading here, but for all those desperate to know how to make their own Grug plushie, read on for the free pattern created by me – Mad Martha!

Amigurumi Grug – Free Crochet Pattern

You will need:

Yarn – I used cheap acrylic from my stash – in yellow and brown.  One skein of each colour will be plenty.

Smaller amounts of yarn in peach or pink (for facial features) and black (for eyes and mouth)

Yarn needle

4.5mm crochet hook (or the right size to suit the yarn you are using)

A small amount of stuffing

*This pattern is written in American crochet terms because that’s how I learned first.  I haven’t written too many patterns, so this one might have a few mistakes. Sorry in advance*

Body – worked from the bottom up

  1. Starting with brown yarn, make a magic ring.  Ch 3 and work 11 dc into the magic ring.  Join with a sl st to the top of the ch 3. (12)
  2. Ch 3, dc in the same stitch.  1 dc in the next st.  *2dc in the next st, 1 dc in next st* around.  Join with a sl st to the top of the ch 3. (18)
  3. Ch 3, dc in the same st.  *2dc in each stitch* around. Join with a sl st (36)
  4. Ch 3, dc in the same st.  1 dc in the next st. *2dc in the next st, 1 dc in the next st* around. Join with sl st. (54)
  5. Ch 3, dc in the same st.  *2dc in next st, 1 dc in next 2 st* around.  Join with sl st (72)
  6. From now on, work in spirals (don’t join the rounds).  Sc around (72)
  7. Sc around (72)
  8. Change to yellow yarn.  Sc around (72)
  9. Sc around (72)
  10. *Sc2tog, sc in the next 2 st* 18 times (54)
  11. sc around (54)
  12. Change to brown yarn. Sc around (54)
  13. *Sc2tog, sc in next 2 stitches* 14 times (42)
  14. Sc around (42)
  15. Change to yellow yarn. Sc around (42)
  16. *Sc2tog, sc in the next 2 st* 10 times (30)
  17. Sc around (30)
  18. Change to brown yarn. *Sc2tog, sc in the next 2 st* 7 times (21)
  19. Sc around (21)
  20. Sc around (21)
  21. Turn inside out and stuff.  Change to yellow yarn. *Sc2tog, sc in the next 2 st* 6 times (18)
  22. *Sc2tog, sc in the next st* 6 times (12)
  23. Sc2tog around (6)
  24. Using yarn needle, thread long tail in a running stitch through the final round of stitches and pull to close.  FO.
Hair
Using short lengths of yellow yarn, insert crochet hook into stitches at the top of Grug’s head, YO and pull up a loop.  YO both strands and pull through in a sl st to fasten.
Nose – using pink or peach yarn, working in spiral
1. Make a magic ring and sc 6 into the ring
2. 2sc in each st around (12)
3. *2sc, sc in the next st* 6 times  (18)
4. *2sc, sc in the next 2st* 6 times (24)
5 – 6. sc around (24)
7. 2sc, sc in the next 2st* 6 times (30)
8. sc around (30)
9. *Sc2tog, sc in the next 3 st* 6 times (24)
10. sc around (24)
11. *Sc2tog, sc in next 2 st* 6 times (18)
12. *Sc2tog, sc in next st* 6 times (12)
Turn inside out.
13-15. sc around (12)
16. Sc2tog 6 times (6)
17. sc around (6)
Flatten your work and sc across the top opening to close.  FO, leaving a long tail for attaching to body.
Eyes – make 2 in pink or peach yarn (working in rounds)
1. Ch 6, sc in second chain from the hook and in the next 3 ch.  3sc in the final chain.  Continuing to work in the remaining loops on the other side of the chain, sc in next 3 ch loops.  2sc in final chain loop.  Join with a sl st to the first sc. (12)
2. Ch 1, 2sc in the same st as the join.  Sc in the next 3 sc.  2 sc in the next sc.  Sc in the next sc. 2 sc in the next sc.  Sc in the next 4 sc.  2sc in the last sc.  Join with a sl st to the first sc. (16)  FO, leaving a long tail for attaching to the body.
Mouth – using peach or pink yarn, working in rounds
1. Ch 5. Sc in the 2nd ch from the hook.  Sc in the next 2 ch.  3 sc in final chain.  Continuing in the remaining ch loops on the opposite side of the ch, sc in the next 2 ch loops.  2sc in the final ch.  Join with a sl st to the first sc. (10) FO leaving a long tail for attaching to the body.
Legs – make two using pink/peach and brown yarn, working in spirals
1. Beginning with pink/peach yarn, make a magic ring and sc 6 into the ring.
2. 2 sc in each st around (12)
3. *2sc, sc in the next st* 6 times (18)
4. *sc in the next 2 st, 2sc in the next st* 6 times (24)
Change to brown yarn
5. *Sc2tog, sc in the next 2 st* 6 times (18)
6 – 7.  Sc around (18)
8. *Sc2tog, sc in the next st* 6 times (12)
9-10.  Sc around (12)
Turn inside out, FO, stuff and attach to body.  Embroider toes using French knots.
Arms – make 2 using pink/peach and brown yarn, working in spirals
1. Beginning with pink/peach yarn, make a magic ring and crochet 6 sc into the ring. (6)
2. 2 sc in each st around (12)
3. *2sc, sc in the next st* 6 times (18)
Change to brown yarn
4.*Sc2tog, sc in the next st* 6 times (12)
5. Sc around (12)
Turn inside out, FO, stuff and attach to body.  Embroider fingers using straight stitch in brown yarn.
Assembly
Using the pictures as a guide, sew nose, eye patches and mouth patch to the body.  Embroider pupils and mouth using black yarn.  Add texture by using straight stitches, placed all over Grug’s body in brown yarn.
Done!  Now you have your very own Grug cuddle buddy.  Again, as this is one of my first patterns, there are more than likely going to be mistakes.  Sorry about that.  Feel free to point them out if you find them.
Cheerio, my dears,
Mad Martha

An Eye-Popping, Jaw-Dropping Read-it-if Review: The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven…

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Welcome, welcome, one and all to today’s Read-it-if Review! I’ve got a very special book for you today that will soothe your world-weary eyeballs and fire the coal-stores of your imagination. We here at the Shelf are very pleased to be part of the blog tour for new release series tie-in The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, illustrated by Brandon Dorman. Many thanks to Shadow Mountain Publishing for inviting us to be part of the tour.

I have only read the very first of the Fablehaven series of books – conveniently titled Fablehaven – aimed at upper middle-grade and lower YA readers. The series begins with siblings Kendra and Seth uncovering the truth about their grandfather’s farm – instead of common-or-garden cows and sheep, their grandfather is the caretaker of Fablehaven, a sanctuary for mythical creatures of every type, where dangerous magic is kept in check…if one only follows the rules.

While I enjoyed the book for its sense of adventure and danger, I ultimately decided to knock the others off my TBR list because I found Seth’s penchant for rule breaking and risk-taking to be beyond belief. I can understand a young lad deliberately flouting some rules, but in the final scenes of the book, when the rules have been expressly stated and the children are in actual danger of losing their lives…Seth breaks the rules. And it stretched my suspension of disbelief until it snapped.

Thinking back, it was probably a fairly silly reason for abandoning a whole series, but there you have it. After having a squiz at The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven however, I am fully prepared to put every one of the five books in the series, PLUS the soon to be released spin-off series, right back on my TBR.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

This guidebook to the Fablehaven magical preserve is filled with everything a new Caretaker might need to know in order to survive.

There are entries detailing important information about artifacts large and small, a complete bestiary of creatures (from fairies to trolls to satyrs), a guide to identifying demons, dragons, and wizards as well as valuable insights into the other magical preserves. Immerse yourself into the secret knowledge that has been handed down through the generations by reading the updates and notes written in the margins by the former Caretakers of Fablehaven, including Grandpa Sorenson, Kendra, and Seth.

Fully-illustrated, this unique encyclopedia has gathered the world of Fablehaven into one volume. Scattered throughout the book are colorful fairies that also mark some of the characters, artifacts, and creatures that will be featured in the upcoming sequel series, Dragonwatch

caretakers guide to fablehaven

 

The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven

Written by Brandon Mull and Illustrations by Brandon Dorman Shadow Mountain

Release Date: October 13, 2015

$ 24.99

ISBN: 9781629720913

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Brandon Mull, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fablehaven and Beyonders series, travels the country visiting schools, promoting literacy, and sharing his message that “Imagination Can Take You Places.”

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR Brandon Dorman is the illustrator of the New York Times bestseller The Wizard. His work has appeared in childrens books and on numerous covers, including the Fablehaven series and The Candy Shop War series.

Read it if:

*you like your books to be eye-poppingly, jaw-droppingly gorgeous to look at

*you (somewhat unwisely, according to your peers) took a midlife career change a la “We Bought A Zoo” and could really do with some pointers for keeping the mythical beasts happy

*you’ve been looking for a Halloween present for a youngster (or oldster) in your social circle that will cause the recipient to label you “Best. *Insert Relationship Here*. Ever.”

It’s really hard to describe how stunningly beautiful this book is without being able to give you the chance to flick through it. But I’m going to be cheeky and give you some teeny-weeny glimpses:

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Beautiful, no? The book is made up of illustrations and descriptions of various people, places, artifacts and monsters that populate the world of which Fablehaven is a part. Some entries are enhanced with handwritten annotations from Seth and Kendra, and some have faux notes “stuck” over the top. The information is comprehensive and would take a good long while to wade through, cover-to-cover. This is the kind of book, though, that will have groups of kids flicking through together, exclaiming over their favourite entries and sharing knowledge about the series.

As well as being the perfect pick for established fans of the series, this would make a great teaser for those who haven’t read the books, but would like to get a feel for the world and its workings. I can certainly see this on a classroom bookshelf as a fought-over companion to a read-aloud of the series.

So have I convinced you to explore the world of Fablehaven? Let me know if you’ve read any of the series and what you thought!

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: The Question of the Unfamiliar Husband…

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I have a new release, contemporary murder mystery for today’s Murderous Monday, having received The Question of the Unfamiliar Husband by E.J. Copperman and Jeff Cohen for review from the publisher via Netgalley. This is book number two in the Asperger’s Mystery series. I haven’t read book one, but that didn’t cause any particular dramas in terms of getting to know the characters or the situation in this one.

Let’s get cracking. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

For Samuel Hoenig, Asperger’s isn’t so much a syndrome as it is a set of personality traits. And as the sole proprietor of a business called Questions Answered, Samuel’s put his personality traits to good use, successfully answering every question he’s ever been asked.

But when his newest client asks about the true identity of her so-called husband, Samuel recruits his former associate Janet Washburn for insight into a subject that’s beyond his grasp—marriage. Working as a team seems to be the right approach . . . until the inscrutable spouse is found dead in Samuel’s office.

Feeling like he’s been taken for a fool, Samuel is more than willing to answer a new question posed by an unexpected inquirer: who killed the unfamiliar husband?

unfamiliar husband

Plot Summary:

When a lady comes to Questions Answered requesting that Samuel discover whether the man she is married to is actually her husband, Samuel is happy to take on the case, provided he can gain the support of his friend Janet. After Samuel and Janet are called out to their client’s premises on suspicion of abuse, the corpse of the man they are supposed to be investigating mysteriously appears inside Samuel’s office. Things begin to get a bit convoluted at this point, as Samuel’s original client doesn’t seem to want to be found, and Samuel’s only leads relate to people who don’t seem to exist.

The Usual Suspects:

This is a bit of a tricky one. There’s Samuel’s original client, who seems to not to want to be found, there are some ex-wives of the dead man, and some mysterious colleagues of the dead man.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

The hunt is quite drawn out for reasons which I could not fathom. For keen-eyed readers, and I count myself among them, there are glaring clues given out early on in the story that will tip you off to the eventual reveal of the mystery. There are some red herrings offered, but I found that most of the hunt involved Samuel dialoguing with himself about people’s possible motives.

Overall Rating:

poison clip artpoison clip art

Two poison bottles for the long, drawn-out death rattle of a reader choking on their own impatience.

This was a big miss for me unfortunately. I thought the premise underlying the mystery was creative and interesting and I loved the idea that Samuel wasn’t a “detective” – just someone who endeavoured to answer his clients’ questions.  I’ve enjoyed plenty of books with main characters with Asperger’s Syndrome before, but this one just took too many tedious detours into Samuel’s psyche to keep me interested. My biggest problem was that Samuel seemed to spend inordinate amounts of time explaining certain aspects of human behaviour and relationships to himself that any neuro-typical individual would find bleedingly obvious. Too much of this, and I just lost interest in the mystery.

The most annoying thing about this book for me was the lack of puzzling that I had to do to hit on the answer before it was revealed. Without giving away any spoilers, there comes a certain point in the investigation during which information comes to light that matches up so perfectly with the manner of death that there really couldn’t be any other plausible result.

On the positive side, I really liked Samuel’s mum and Mike as characters.  The ending was certainly action-packed, even if the actual reveal wasn’t a particular surprise.  There is certainly potential for this series to be really engaging, if a bit of judicious editing is applied, but I don’t think I’ll be picking it up again.

As always though, don’t let my curmudgeonly grumbling put you off – if this book sounds like your cup of tea, give it a go and tell me what you think!

Until next time,

Bruce

A Utopirama from the Olden Times: Star Teacher

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Welcome to Utopirama, the place where I suggest books that are guaranteed to uplift the heart or, at the very least, not make you feel any worse than you did before you read them. The point of Utopirama posts is to highlight cosy reads across all genres that are perfect for those times when you need to retreat from the horrors of the world and escape to gentler place. Today’s selection fulfils this brief perfectly and also has the honour of being part of a series from my olden times. In fact, the earlier titles in this series of books can make the amazing claim of being the very first and second entries in my Book Depository wishlist, which now, ridiculously, boasts over 1200 individual titles.

Our book today is Star Teacher, the ninth in Jack Sheffield’s Teacher series, set in quaint Yorkshire village Ragley-on-the-Forest. When this popped up on Netgalley I was stunned to see that this was book nine – I stopped reading after book four, having skipped book three (and all subsequent instalments) due to the fact that our local library system didn’t have them (and I’m a cheapskate and therefore couldn’t possibly buy them). And all of a sudden, here was book nine!

That’s enough of my reminiscing though. Let’s get on with it. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s 1985, and as Jack returns for another year as headteacher at Ragley village school, some changes are in store. It’s the year of Halley’s Comet, Band Aid, Trivial Pursuit, Dynasty shoulder pads, Roland Rat and Microsoft Windows. And at Ragley-on-the-Forest, Heathcliffe Earnshaw decides to enter the village scarecrow competition, Ruby the caretaker finds romance, and retirement looms for Vera the secretary.

star teacher

Quick Overview:

The wonderful thing about this series (and series similar to it, of which there are many) is that you can stop reading at some point, pick up the lastest release some six or seven (or more) years later and absolutely nothing of substance has changed. It’s a bit like those long-running American soap operas – they of the drawn-out, moody stares and soft filtered lighting – except with fewer fake tans and a Northern accent. I came back to Jack’s life after a significant leave of absence to find things pretty much as they were in Ragley, albeit with a new baby in residence and having finally discovered which of the sisters he was keen on that he actually married.

That’s one of the interesting things about this book – while absolutely nothing of note happens throughout the preceding 200+ pages, the books always finish on a cliffhanger, usually relating to the problem that initially prompted you to pick up the book in the first place. For example, the last book that I read in the series finished on the cliffhanger of Jack making up his mind which sister he was going to pursue. This one, of course, leaves us hanging in the balance while the author strings us along, hoping we’ll buy the next book to find out whether Jack gets to remain as head teacher of Ragley village school.

The other utopiramic thing about the series is the continued references to current events, fashions and developments of the particular year in which each book is set. For example, Star Teacher is set over 1985 and 1986 so you can expect lots of mentions of the new technology of the era (the Commodore 128 computer for example!) and big events of that time (the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, for instance). I always find these references a great comfort, because while the characters are in various states of worry about such things, I, as a citizen of the future, can relax in the knowledge that I know how it all turned out.

As a Utopirama pick, you can’t go past the Teacher series, mainly because absolutely nothing painful, shocking or uncomfortable ever happens. This really is a series revolving around caricatures of the population of a small Yorkshire village (complete with phonetically rendered accents) and the head teacher of its school. On the flipside, of course, is the chance that things can get a bit tedious, because nothing painful, shocking or uncomfortable ever happens. I found that this instalment felt a bit tedious to me – although I will always go back to this series for those times when I need safe, escapist read. Provided the library has a copy of course.

Utopian Themes

Escape to the country

The carefree days of youth

Circle of friends

80s nostalgia

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

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4 out of 5 bubbles for the unsurpassed serenity of a ruminant beast supremely unconcerned with the problems of humanity

Until next time,

Bruce

A Non-Fiction Double-Dip Review: Those Cursed and Forgotten…

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Today you’ll have to reach right to the back of the pantry to find the dusty old snacks that have sat unnoticed for months untold, because today’s double-dip review is looking at non-fiction books that deal with the accursed and forgotten. Forgotten Bones: Uncovering a Slave Cemetery by Lois Miner Huey is a beautifully presented children’s non-fiction title, dealing with the accidental unearthing of the remains of slaves in New York in the 19th century, while The Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations by Olivier Le Carrer is the perfect book to place strategically on your coffee table to avoid having to listen to well-travelled friends who insist on sharing their exciting adventures with you.

I received both of these books from their respective publishers via Netgalley. Let’s start with the children’s fare. Here’s the blurb for Forgotten Bones from Goodreads:

Imagine you’re watching a backhoe dig up the ground for a construction project when a round object rolls down a pile of dirt and stops at your feet. You pick it up, brush off some dirt, and realize you’re holding a skull!

This is exactly what happened in Albany, New York, in 2005. Workers were putting in new sewer line when a backhoe driver dug up a skull. After police declared the skull wasn’t connected to any recent crimes, a team of archaeologists took a closer look. They determined the skull was from an African American who had died more than one hundred years earlier. Suddenly the construction site turned into an archaeological dig.

Scientists excavated more bones and realized that they had located a long-lost slave cemetery. Slavery had been legal in the northern United States, including in New York State, in colonial times, but the stories of these slaves are largely unknown. This site became just the third slave cemetery ever to be excavated in the North. See how archaeologists pieced together the truth about these once forgotten bones.

Dip into it for…forgotten bones

…a well-researched and highly engaging exploration of archaeology, anthropology and history all wrapped up in a visually enticing package. The easy-to-read text is accompanied by plenty of photographs and diagrams that bring the information to life (so to speak). The book follows the process of discovery from the initial acknowledgement that human remains have been found during routine maintenance, through to the identification and dating of the bones, to the recreation of the faces of some of the people whose bones had been unearthed. This is the kind of book that will draw young readers in from all over the place, simply for the excitement of the skull on the cover, and will keep them engaged with the accessible and fascinating information on the process and the people involved.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of bones?? There’s not much to complain about with this book – it’s a quality production. The only thing that irked me as an adult reader was the slightly clunky writing style that provided a narrative at the beginning of each chapter. While I understand that this was probably intended to liven up the facts and give them a bit of context, it felt a bit contrived to me.

Overall Dip Factor:

If you’ve got upper middle-grade readers in your social circle who love a bit of history and getting their hands dirty (metaphorically), they will eat this book up (also metaphorically). As an adult I found it engaging and fascinating and there was so much visual information in the form of photos and drawings and diagrams that even the most reluctant reader will find something to grab their interest. Even though the book features specifically American history, it still should provide high appeal to readers in other countries, as the process itself and the lives of the people uncovered should promote much discussion and comparison with local contexts. I’d highly recommend this as an addition to classroom libraries – put it out on the shelf and watch the kiddies fight over it for silent reading time!

Now for the grown-ups, here’s the blurb for The Atlas of Cursed Places from Goodreads:

Oliver Le Carrer brings us a fascinating history and armchair journey to the world’s most dangerous and frightful places, complete with vintage maps and period illustrations in a handsome volume. 

This alluring read includes 40 locations that are rife with disaster, chaos, paranormal activity, and death. The locations gathered here include the dangerous Strait of Messina, home of the mythical sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis; the coal town of Jharia, where the ground burns constantly with fire; Kasanka National Park in Zambia, where 8 million migrating bats darken the skies; the Nevada Triangle in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where hundreds of aircraft have disappeared; and Aokigahara Forest near Mount Fuji in Japan, the world’s second most popular suicide location following the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Dip into it for…atlas of cursed places

…bite-sized chunks of eyebrow-raising information focusing on a collection of locations that are plagued by natural, human-instigated or thoroughly mysterious misfortunes. Each location has one to two pages dedicated to its particular woes, which was too much for the places I wasn’t interested in, and not enough for those that I was. Many of the situations described prove the old adage that fact is stranger than fiction, such as the village in India where the ground could explode at any moment due to fiery mining pits beneath the earth, the mountain village where birds seem to go with the express purpose of dying and the ill-thought-out, surely-this-is-someone-else’s-problem nuclear submarine graveyard in the frozen north. This would be a great starting point for those looking to write a horror or fantasy story and needing an interesting setting. Or indeed, a great conversation starter for someone wishing to look worldly and mysterious at a dinner party.

Don’t dip if…

…you’ve booked a holiday to any of these places. Or perhaps if you are familiar with any of these places. The information given about each place is cursory for the most part and I found myself becoming annoyed with the slightly stereotypical depiction of Far North Queensland , where deadly creatures take shifts throughout the year to strike fear into the hearts of tourists (although this section was particularly amusing). Similarly, I was irritated to note that while the island of Nauru is mentioned, including a passing mention of Australia’s offshore detention facility for the “processing” of asylum seekers, the author neglected to mention the accursed experiences related by asylum seekers while detained there – experiences which include rape, self-harm, suicide and abuse – which surely qualify as the fodder for nightmares noted for other localities in the book.

Overall Dip Factor:

This is one of those books that you keep around for the “Oh, that’s interesting!” moments that you’ll experience while reading it. It would make a great gift for the travel enthusiast in your life, or for those teenaged readers who are looking for more grown-up books that focus on the real world in an accessible way. I quite enjoyed dipping into this one and discovering the mind-boggling situations attached to certain localities.

I am submitting both of these to the Non-fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader. Even though I’ve technically already completed the level that I was aiming for, I’m going to keep pushing and see how many non-fiction books I can get through this year.

Nonfiction 2015

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge Goal: 16/10

Until next time,

Bruce

Shhh! It’s “The Secret” for Kids…and a Giveaway!

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Welcome to a new release picture book review that has me scratching my head and awakening my inner cynic (who, incidentally, gets very little rest and is therefore usually quite cranky). Today I present to you the first book in “The Secret” franchise aimed at children – The Power of Henry’s Imagination by Skye Byrne and illustrated by Nic George (both Aussies!).

If you are unaware of the phenomenon of The Secret, you can find out more here, but I’m just going to go ahead and assume that you heard all about it a number of years ago when it was the big “thing” of the moment. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Power of Henry’s Imagination from Simon & Schuster Australia and I am going to give away this beautifully illustrated, hardback copy to one lucky winner. Read on to see how you can acquire it!

But before that, here’s the blurb of the book from Goodreads:

A boy learns the secret to locating his missing stuffed bunny in this picture book about the extraordinary power of imagination, from the team behind the phenomenally bestselling The Secret.

When Henry’s beloved stuffed rabbit, Raspberry, goes missing, he enlists his whole family to help him search for the missing toy. But Raspberry can’t be found. Then Henry’s grandfather suggests that Henry use his imagination to find his rabbit.

Will the power of Henry’s imagination bring Raspberry back? Or is Raspberry gone for good?

Depicting the love of a boy for his toy and the power of friendship, The Power of Henry’s Imagination is sure to become an instant classic.

thepowerofhenrysimagination-book

Well. I’m not entirely convinced about that last blurbish claim. But let’s start with the good bits. “Secret”-y business aside, this is a warm-hearted and comforting tale on the oft-used theme of “favourite toy lost” (such as in the actual classic books Dogger, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale). After Henry imagines he has Raspberry with him, and falls asleep cosseted in the assuagement that his imagining brings, the postman finds Raspberry the rabbit in the path and delivers him safely home….thus proving the incredible power of the imagination to act upon the fabric of reality apparently.

Although I suspect the postman would have found the bunny and returned it, regardless of whether or not Henry did any imagining. Especially given that the postman appears early on in the book, strategically placed opposite the line “Everyone could see how much Henry loved Raspberry”. So really, if the postman knew the bunny belonged to Henry, and also knew how much Henry loved Raspberry, we could only conclude that the postman must have a gnarled, dried-up, husk for a heart if he indeed found the bunny and in fact, chose NOT to return it to Henry…which really renders the imagining part immaterial…unless you subscribe to the principles of the Secret.

*The shelf wishes to apologise for the unleashing of Bruce’s inner cynic on an innocent children’s book and will endeavour to ensure that this does not happen again*

The illustrations are quite atmospheric and feature a combination of simple line drawings overlayed with photographic elements. These do add significantly to the concept of imagination – I quite enjoyed a page featuring clothes pegs posing as snapping crocodiles – and the interplay between the photographic images and the drawings is satisfyingly subtle and effective. The earthy colour palette complements the gentle pace of the tale and the overall impression is of a carefully thought-out production. I should also mention that the book has a website attached that includes a number of interesting resources including an author and illustrator Q&A and an interesting “Making Of” video showing some of the illustration process.

As it stands, The Power of Henry’s Imagination is a quality-looking work and will no doubt achieve the effects of comfort and reassurance that go hand-in-hand with a “lost toy, found” story, for many of its young readers.

But…that’s all it is. I really don’t think that this book is going to revolutionise the thinking of any small children and have to concede that the adding of the Secret logo to the book cover is just a slick way of sucking in adults who have jumped on the Secret bandwagon. And compared to lots of other quality picture books out there, this one is pretty standard fare – indeed, one wonders whether it would have been picked up for publication at all if not for the Secret tag.

*The shelf wishes to apologise for the continued use of Bruce’s inner cynic despite earlier assurances. We will endeavour to ensure that this does not happen again. Really, this time we mean it.*

So there you have it – my thoughts on what has, at least in my own head, inspired vigorous debate. Now I’m going to do my part in the Secret wishful-thinking cycle and ensure that this book is delivered to the person who the universe intends to have it.

Here’s where the giveaway comes in!

If you’d like to take possession of my lovely, hardback copy of The Power of Henry’s Imagination by Skye Byrne and Nic George (with thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for providing the book), all you have to do is comment below with the words, “I really, really want it!”. That’s it. At the end of the giveaway, a random number generator will select a winner and I will contact that winner by email.

The giveaway will run from the moment this post goes live (October 6, 2015) until midnight on October 13, 2015, Brisbane time, and will be open internationally, because presumably, whoever wins is intended to win by the universe and the universe will therefore provide me with the correct funds for postage without leaving me out of pocket.  Similarly, the Shelf will not be held responsible if your prize is lost or damaged in the mail…if either of these unlikely events occur, you can blame the universe.

*Seriously. That’s the very last time. Sorry. We’re really sorry.*

I’d love to hear what you think about a Secret book aimed at kids, so feel free to let me know in the comments also!

And in case you were thinking my inner cynic reminded you of someone, I did invite Shouty Doris to collaborate with me on this review, but she kept pretending to be deaf, deliberately mishearing the word “secret” as “meatless”, and accusing me of forgetting to include ham in her quiche.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

An Engineer and a Philosopher Walk into a Time Tunnel: The Princelings of the East Blog Tour!

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the princelings trilogy

You know that old joke, don’t you? The one where the engineer and the philosopher walk into a time tunnel?  Well, if you haven’t heard it, let me be the first to introduce you to friend-of-the-shelf, indie author Jemima Pett’s adventure series for all ages: The Princelings of the East! We shelf-dwellers are very pleased to be participating in the tour, hosted by My Family’s Heart, to promote the first three books in this six book series.

Now, while I say that the tour is promoting the first three books in the imageseries, I only managed to get through the first two before my tour date crept up on me, so I’ll be focusing in on those two today. I should also mention that I acquired the trilogy by winning a competition run by Jemima herself a veritable age ago and this tour gave me the perfect opportunity to knock two books off my TBR and re-home them on my permanent shelf – hurrah!

To start us off, here’s the blurb for the trilogy from Goodreads:

Suitable for all ages, The Princelings of the East is a trilogy relating the adventures of unlikely guinea pig heroes Fred and George. Two innocents abroad, they solve problems caused by unintended consequences, commercial greed, and blind prejudice yet still find time to engage in troubled love affairs and nearly blow themselves up with their own inventions.

Oh yes, did I mention that the engineer and the philosopher are, in fact, guinea pigs? Sorry for the oversight. I suspect that the reason this trilogy has sat on my TBR unread for so long is because I am mildly wary of books based around anthropomorphic animals. I’m pleased to say, however, that the writing here is such that the guinea pig thing is hardly an issue and when I did remember I was reading about guinea pigs, the mental image always gave me a little giggle. Essentially, Fred, George and the gang definitely grew on me quite quickly.

princelings one

Book one of the trilogy is The Princelings of the East in which we are introduced to Fred and George’s world – a world made up of castles full of guinea pigs, each with their own royal lineages. In this book, the Castle on the Marsh (or Castle Marsh for short) is experiencing strange and highly inconvenient energy drains and Fred (the philosopher) and George (the engineer) decide to throw caution to the wind and venture forth from Castle Marsh to see if they can discover the cause of the Energy Drain.

Almost immediately the brothers are separated and while Fred is led onwards by a stranger with an unusual accent and plus-sized girth, George finds himself in a different castle that seems to be labouring under some very odd chronological anomalies. As the brothers puzzle out the mysteries that they are faced with in their separate situations, we are introduced to a host of other characters and must riddle out, along with Fred and George, who is trustworthy and who might not be who they appear to be.

I was surprised at the cerebral nature of the writing in what I originally thought was a middle-grade story. Much of Fred’s adventure is taken up with political to-and-fro-ing as high profile members from other castles become involved in solving the problem of the Energy Drain and diplomatic relations between various castles are carefully managed. George, in the meantime, is left to unravel the mystery of a tunnel that appears to transport its users to other times, while also assisting in the streamlining of production processes of a widely exported diet drink.

At times, during Fred’s story arc, I felt a bit like I was reading Jane Austen (for guinea pigs) and during George’s, I felt like I’d fallen into Back to the Future (for guinea pigs). While this might sound an unpromising match, it actually worked really well to keep me engaged. And as I mentioned before, whenever I remembered that these were guinea pigs – riding in carriages, fixing industrial vending machines and the like – it gave me a chuckle. It’s rare that you find a book that is pitched nominally at children that also has enough intellectual material in the plot to keep adults interested, but this is one of those books.

the princelings two

The second book in the trilogy is The Princelings and the Pirates which does exactly what it says on the tin, plunging Fred, George, some of the guys we met in the first book and some new furry faces into a good old, piratey adventure. This book had a much lighter tone than the first and the action – in terms of deck-swabbing, swashbuckling, kidnapping and the like – increases tenfold. The book opens with Princess Kira of Dimerie, a prime wine-producing kingdom, kidnapped by pirates – guinea pig pirates, obviously – and when the other castles send emissaries to find out why the wine supply has dried up, said emissaries, including Fred and George, are press-ganged into the pirate life.

As well as the general pirate business, there’s also a surprise in store for the brothers as they discover a certain bad seed nestled in the branches of their family tree, suffer some critical injuries and aid in the effort to subdue the pirate menace. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, being partial to tales set on the high seas and the whole “main characters are guinea pigs” thing really had me giggling as my mind boggled at some of the more swashbuckly battle scenes in which the characters engage.  This book also had many more touching scenes as friends, new and old, fall into dangerous situations and the thin line between life and death becomes a tenuous one to walk.

I really appreciated the diversity between the two tales and now I’m chomping at the bit (of lettuce) to get at book three, The Princelings and the Lost City, which as I mentioned, I didn’t get time to read before this post.

princelings three

Starting this series has been enlightening, and I feel I’ve been inspired to take another look at Brian Jacques’ Redwall series – if I can enjoy adventurous guinea pigs so much, surely battle-hardened squirrels will be right up my alley!

If you are looking for an adventure series that will give your brain and your funny-bone a work out, then I can heartily recommend having a look at the Princelings series. It’s certainly got a wider appeal than just middle grade aged readers.

If you’d like to find out more about the series, you can go here and if you’d like to check out Jemima Pett’s blog, you can do that here.

Until next time,

Bruceimage