Title Fight Reading Challenge: Of Better Blood…

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Title Fight Button 2016

So today I present my first KO in the Title Fight Reading Challenge 2016 (which I happen to be hosting), with a historical middle grade fiction novel about eugenics and what it means to be different.  I received a copy of Of Better Blood by Susan Moger from the publisher via Netgalley and I will be submitting it in category five of the Title Fight Challenge: a book with an injury (or something implying an injury) in the title.  I think “blood” fits quite nicely there, don’t you?

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Teenage polio survivor Rowan Collier is caught in the crossfire of a secret war against “the unfit.” It’s 1922, and eugenics–the movement dedicated to racial purity and good breeding–has taken hold in America. State laws allow institutions to sterilize minorities, the “feeble-minded,” and the poor, while local eugenics councils set up exhibits at county fairs with “fitter family” contests and propaganda. After years of being confined to hospitals, Rowan is recruited at sixteen to play a born cripple in a county fair eugenics exhibit. But gutsy, outspoken Dorchy befriends Rowan and helps her realize her own inner strength and bravery. The two escape the fair and end up at a summer camp on a desolate island run by the New England Eugenics Council. There they discover something is happening to the children. Rowan must find a way to stop the horrors on the island if she can escape them herself.

of better blood

What an interesting mash-up of genres and issues this story is!  What begins as the story of a young girl overcoming disability, family bigotry and exploitation morphs into a ripping murder-mystery, fight-for-survival-on-an-isolated-island, survivor type tale.  I thoroughly enjoyed this tale (although the end third of the book was by far the most exciting), because it seemed to cover all the bits and pieces that I like to see in middle grade fiction.

Rowan starts off as a privileged white girl from a rich family that has a vested interest in the eugenics movement.  When Rowan develops polio and loses the use of one of her legs, not only does she have to overcome pain and isolation, but also silence from her father who seems to have abandoned her in her “weakness”.  This early part of the story flicks between Rowan’s present-day travails – in which she is forced to play “Ruthie”, the crippled simpleton daughter, in a travelling carnival show that touts the ideals of the benefits of eugenics – and her life before.  We are privy to the abrupt change in affections of Rowan’s father toward her, and the parade of medical professionals – some sympathetic to her plight, some not – to whom Rowan is subjected during her recovery.

During her time in the Fitter Families show, Rowan meets Dorchy, a rowdy, independent girl from a carnival family, and this friendship drives the rest of the novel.  The relationship building here is done sensitively and will really appeal to female readers of the target age group.  Though the girls come from different socioeconomic backgrounds (as will become apparent later in the book), they are possessed of a similar undaunted spirit and the desire to make their own ways in the world.

I certainly wasn’t expecting the action-packed turn that the last third of the book would take (despite the fact that it’s flagged in the blurb), but it drew me in completely and I desperately wanted to know how it was all going to end up.  Two young girls alone on an island with a bunch of orphan kids, some reclusive caretakers, a very rich woman and her daughter and a doctor at the “cutting edge” of eugenics technology? What could possibly go wrong?!

This section of the story really brings home the point that the author is trying to make about this period in history and the dangerous attitudes that can be fostered when we try to place labels on those we think are unfit or unhelpful to society.  Lovers of historical fiction will enjoy the period details here, while general readers of middle grade will appreciate the pacey plot and the continuous changes in the girls’ situations.

So for a first bout, this one certainly came out in my favour!  If you’d like to know more about the Title Fight Reading Challenge (and sign up!) just click here.  I’m also submitting this book for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenged hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check out my progress for that challenge here, if you’re interested.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Shelfies: The Infinity Dreams Award Tag

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imageI bring you an unscheduled Shelfie today, because I have been nominated by Xxertz for the …

infinity dreams awardThanks!  Now I don’t usually do these anymore because they can get a bit repetitive but I’ll make a slight exception just this once.  So the rules for this award are…

  1. Thank and follow the blog that nominated you
  2. Tell us 11 facts about yourself
  3. Answer the questions that were set for you to answer
  4. Nominate 11 bloggers and set questions for them
So, number one is already done.  Number two….pass. Number three I will indulge in otherwise this would be a very short post.  Here are the questions that were set:
What is the first book (or series) you fell in love with?
I honestly can’t remember.  Although over the years I’ve been a big fan of Enid Blyton’s works, the Chronicles of Narnia and Choose Your Own Adventure books.
Has your favourite genre changed over the years (please share!)?
No.  Although I read a lot more nonfiction and contemporary these days than I ever did in the past.
Okay,  be honest, how many book boyfriends/girlfriends do you have?
This is a strange human concept that I find utterly bewildering.
What about book enemies?
Spot of lift the flap, children’s book fame.
What are your drinks of choice (alcoholic, cold, and hot please)?
I don’t really drink alcohol.  Water.  Tea (milky, no sugar).
I’m dying to know – what is your favourite TV show?
The Chase (UK or Australia, doesn’t really bother me), Bargain Hunt, Escape to the Country, Would I Lie To You? 
If my life depended on reading a really good book, what book would you recommend?
I would recommend finding a competent health professional.
 Which three popular books do you not understand what all of the hype is about?
Most YA bestsellers.
What is your favourite game to play (can be card, board, electronic, etc.)?
Snap, Twister, The Elder Scrolls.  Preferably simultaneously.
What is the last book to have made you cry?
I lack tear ducts.  Next question.
What is the last book to have made you laugh out loud, despite being in a public place?
Lockwood and Co: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud.
I hope that was enlightening!  Now, number four….nominating eleven people seems a bit excessive, so I will just throw out a general invitation to anyone who wants to do it.
Until next time,
Bruce

Yarning with Mad Martha: Lockwood & Co (The Whispering Skull) …plus Make Your Own Desktop Skull-in-a-Jar!

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yarning with mad martha_Fotor (2)Welcome to another spot of yarning with me – Mad Martha!  Bruce has asked me to share with you our thoughts on the second book in the Lockwood & Co YA paranormal series by Jonathan Stroud – The Whispering Skull – as we have just managed to stab it with our grappling hook and haul ourselves over it in our climb up the Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2016 (hosted by My Reader’s Block).  Click on the image for more information on this wonderful challenge:

Mount TBR 2016

As I’m controlling the blog today, you know there will be some DIY crafty component to the review and at the end of this post I will leave you some instructions on how to create your own skull-in-a-jar shelfmate:

   bruce and skull_Fotor

I will, however, make no guarantees as to the likelihood or otherwise of your little skull whispering to you.  Although Bruce looks hopeful.

But let’s not let this bony little cutie-pie steal the show! Without further ado, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In the six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England, Lockwood & Co. hasn’t made much progress. Quill Kipps and his team of Fittes agents keep swooping in on Lockwood’s investigations. Finally, in a fit of anger, Anthony challenges his rival to a contest: the next time the two agencies compete on a job, the losing side will have to admit defeat in the Times newspaper.

Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the excavation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead. Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well-until George’s curiosity attracts a horrible phantom.

Back home at Portland Row, Lockwood accuses George of making too many careless mistakes. Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in the ghost jar. Then the team is summoned to DEPRAC headquarters. Kipps is there too, much to Lockwood’s annoyance. Bickerstaff’s coffin was raided and a strange glass object buried with the corpse has vanished. Inspector Barnes believes the relic to be highly dangerous, and he wants it found.

lockwood and co

It has been far too long between paranormal drinks for we shelf denizens and this series.  We loved the first book, The Screaming Staircase , and have kept the other two books in the series in our back pockets, so to speak, for those moments when we need a sure-fire ripper read.  Once the Mount TBR Challenge came along though, we decided to take the plunge and get into the second book to ensure we don’t get left too far behind as more books are released.

This one picks up pretty well immediately after the first leaves off, with Lucy, George and Lockwood drawn into an investigation featuring a dangerous relic made by members of Victorian high society who had a penchant for trying to communicate with the dead.  The banter between Lucy and George makes a welcome return and very early on it’s obvious that relationships between our three heroes will become strained as the stakes of the investigation – and the body count – gets higher. There is the added problem of the ever-present and ever-irritating Fittes agents, led by pompous Quill Kipps, who are competing with Lockwood & Co to solve the mystery and win the acclaim (and payment).

We were tantalised with the whisperings of the titular skull in the first book and this second instalment gives the trio some new insights into who the skull might have been.  Lucy knows however, that there is something not-quite-right about the skull’s sudden turn toward verbosity (apart from the obvious lack of vocal chords on a skull), yet struggles to get Lockwood to see the light.  We are left hanging again at the end of this instalment, with some questions answered about the skull, but some intriguing threads left loose.

I didn’t find this book quite as terrifying as the first in the series, but there are definitely some hairy scenes where it’s touch and go for the main characters.  Stroud seems to have a knack for stringing out the action, allowing the pace to slow before ramping things up in alarming fashion.  There were also a few niggling bits that Bruce and I found a bit off about the plot – one or two plot points that seem pretty obvious early on (and turn out as expected) but are missed, improbably, by the main characters.  That aside, this is certainly a worthy addition to the series and we are all now looking forward to The Hollow Boy, when we get around to it.

Now on to the craft!  I am certain that all fans of this series (and some who aren’t) will be itching to get their paws on a little skeletal companion so here are some instructions for how to whip up your own Whispering Skull*!

*Whispering not guaranteed*

skull and book_FotorYou will need:

*a jar (with or without lid)

*a small amount of white yarn (we used acrylic)

*a small amount of black yarn
*a small amount of grey or brown yarn
*a yarn needle
*scissors
*a small amount of stuffing
*a size 3.5 mm crochet hook
*green cellophane
*sticky tape
The Skull 
I decided not to reinvent the wheel and used this pattern by NerdyCrochetGal to create a mini skull.  It turned out to be the perfect size and something that could be whipped up super-quick.  I used grey yarn to crochet two little circles for the eyes, a triangle for the nose and just did some satin stitches for the mouth.  Unfortunately I made the nose hole too big, and the eyes too small, so my skull has a slightly odd expression – but there you are.  You can learn from my mistake.
The Jar
Here’s where you’ll need the cellophane and tape.  The skull in the book is described as having a green plasma that whirls around it now and again, so I used green cellophane to tint my jar the correct colour.  Wrap some cellophane around the outside of your jar to measure how much you will need.  Cut this section of cellophane out and tape it to the inside of your jar.  Place your skull inside the jar.
The Lid
If your jar has a lid already, you can decide whether you want to do this part.  My jar was lidless, so I crocheted a circle wide enough to cover the opening (in double crochet stitches) and then repeated the number of stitches in the final round 4 times (using single crochet stitches) to create an overhang.  Then I stretched my faux lid over the top of the jar.  Finished!  Even if your jar has a lid, you could crochet a little cosy over the top using the same method.
skull and book two_Fotor
Now your little bony friend is ready to adorn your desk, shelf or other home- or office-based niche. Enjoy!
If you haven’t discovered the Lockwood & Co series yet, we shelf denizens highly recommend taking a look at it.
Cheerio my dears,
Mad Martha

Fiction in 50 January Challenge: Dredging up the Past…

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

Welcome to the first Fiction in 50 Challenge prompt for 2016.  If you’d like to participate, simply create a piece of poetry or prose in fewer than 51 words and post the link in the comments.  For more detailed information about the challenge, just click on the image at the top of this post.

The prompt for this month is…

dredging up the pastAnd I have titled my contribution…

After the Funeral

 “You shan’t quibble about grandfather leaving me the silver pitcher? “ My sister dithered.  “It’ll suit my decor.  You got his old tackle box, didn’t you?  More your style!”

Grandfather always said that a tackle box was as good as a bank for storing one’s life savings.

 “I shan’t quibble.”


It took me a while to manhandle that one into the required word count, but I got there in the end.  I hope not all the prompts this year will require such brute force!

Our prompt for next month will be…

raising the bar

To get the heads-up on prompts for later in the year, just click here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Australia Day Giveaway Hop 2016!

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hop button

It’s nearly Australia Day (or Invasion Day or Survival Day, depending on your heredity and perspective – the Shelf offers respect and acknowledgement to the successes and struggles of the Indigenous mobs of this land) so that must mean it’s time to give away books!  Thanks to Book’d Out for hosting this happy hop which runs from the 24th to the 27th of January.

I have a selection of Aussie print books on offer today and one winner from anywhere in the world will be able to take their choice of one book from the selection.  There are picture books, YA and MG books and one adult fiction, including a couple of my Top Books of 2015.  Click on the photo for my reviews of the books or the links to Goodreads.  Here are the books the winner can choose from:

australia to z giveaway   skeleton xray giveaway     olive of groves giveaway

the beauty is in the walking giveaway  in the skin of a monster giveaway  gun control giveaway

To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter link below – Ts and Cs are available at the link:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Remember, this is a hop, so don’t forget to visit the other participating blogs here!

Good luck 😀

Until next time,

Bruce
https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

A Japanese Double-Dip Review…and an Fi50 Reminder!

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

Before we get started on a double dip from the far East, allow me to inform you that our first Fiction in 50 writing challenge for 2016 kicks off on Monday, the 25th of January.  Our prompt for this month is…

dredging up the past

If you’d like to join in, simply create a piece of poetry or prose in fewer than 51 words and then post the link to your work in the comments of the Fiction in 50 post on Monday.  For more detailed information on the challenge and future prompts, click here.

Now onto our…

imageWell, I promised earlier in the month that I would be bringing you more books featuring Japan and today I deliver on that promise.  I have one middle grade classic revamped for a new generation and one adult contemporary fiction that is perfect for lovers of the quirky road-trip subgenre.    I received both of these from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s start with the one I liked most, which was the middle grade classic revamp: The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui, first published in 1967 and translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

On the first floor of the big house of the Moriyama family, is a small library. There, on the shelves next to the old books, live the Little People, a tiny family who were once brought from England to Japan by a beloved nanny. Since then, each generation of Moriyama-family children has inherited the responsibility of filling the blue glass with milk to feed the Little People and it’s now Yuri’s turn. 


The little girl dutifully fulfils her task but the world around the Moriyama family is changing. Japan is caught in the whirl of what will soon become World War II, turning her beloved older brother into a fanatic nationalist and dividing the family for ever. Sheltered in the garden and the house, Yuri is able to keep the Little People safe, and they do their best to comfort Yuri in return, until one day owing to food restrictions milk is in shorter supply…

blue glassDip into it for…

…a bewitching and moving account of one family’s – and in particular, one young girl’s – attempt to care for others in a desperate situation.  I really loved discovering this story for the first time and I think other adult readers will enjoy it too, never mind the younger ones!  The text reads like a classic children’s story and, being historical fiction, the tale doesn’t have the action-packed pace that one might have come to expect from contemporary middle grade reads, but the story is a deeply engaging take on the theme of the Borrowers, with much to say to a new generation of children.  Yuri is a wonderfully relatable character and readers will be hoping for the best along with her as times get tougher, as well as cheering for her and the Little People as they develop some ingenious methods to overcome hardship.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for fast-paced action and obvious magical themes.  This is a far more subtle offering, combining the hardship of war with the growth and changes of two families.

Overall Dip Factor

The Secret of the Blue Glass is an absolute winner, in my opinion, either as a read-alone for independent youngsters who aren’t afraid to take on some historical content, or as a pre-bedtime read-aloud serial for parents and their mini-fleshlings.  It was wonderfully refreshing to read a story that examined the goings-on of the second World War from a Japanese perspective, touching on patriotism, dissent and political propaganda  in wartime in a way that is accessible to young readers.  This is definitely worth getting your hands on, if you haven’t come across it before.

And now for the adult contemporary fiction, Yuki Chan in Bronte Country by Mick Jackson.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“They both stop and stare for a moment. Yuki feels she’s spent about half her adult life thinking about snow, but when it starts, even now, it always arresting, bewildering. Each snowflake skating along some invisible plane. Always circuitous, as if looking for the best place to land . . .”

Yukiko tragically lost her mother ten years ago. After visiting her sister in London, she goes on the run, and heads for Haworth, West Yorkshire, the last place her mother visited before her death. Against a cold, winter, Yorkshire landscape, Yuki has to tackle the mystery of her mother’s death, her burgeoning friendship with a local girl, the allure of the Brontës and her own sister’s wrath. Both a pilgrimage and an investigation into family secrets, Yuki’s journey is the one she always knew she’d have to make, and one of the most charming and haunting in recent fiction.

yuki chanDip into it for…

…a chick-lit, road trip, finding one’s self novel with a difference.  “Charming and haunting” certainly sums up the atmosphere of this book, written in a strangely compelling present tense perspective.  Yuki is a likeable, if somewhat neurotic, heroine on a quest to find some peace with her mother’s untimely death in England, ten year’s previously and seems to collect experience that are by turns touching and awkward.  Readers of contemporary who are looking for a main character who is well-developed, but certainly not your average, should take to Yuki like a duck to water.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for a no-brainer holiday read.  I felt like this one had me working quite hard –  whether from the unusual use of present tense, the oddity of Yuki herself of the injections of bizarre dry humour, or a combination of the above – and I suspect that this will take an active, on-form reader to appreciate it.

Overall Dip Factor

If you’d like a change of pace from whatever it is you’ve been reading lately, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that Yuki Chan in Bronte Country will scratch that itch.  It’s a strange mash-up of ye olde world charm with an idiosyncratic main character and a very mysterious back story that will engage readers who are looking for something out of the ordinary and don’t mind leaving a book scratching their heads a little and wondering, “What on earth was that?”

alphabet soup challenge 2016

With such a handy “Y”-based title, I just have to submit Yuki Chan in Bronte Country for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge.  You can check out my progress in this challenge (and maybe suggest some books for the trickier letters!) here.

Until next time,
Bruce

Great Expectations…Slightly Dashed: Just My Type…

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GREAT (1)Welcome to a brand new feature that I just made up this minute – the Great Expectations review!  Sometimes you approach a book with very specific expectations about what a book is going to be.  Sometimes these expectations are met, and sometimes not.  Regardless, the expectations often shape the reading experience.  So from now on, if there’s a book that inspires certain expectations in me, I will bust out a “Great Expectations” review, to highlight how the actual reading experience differed from what I thought it was going to be.

Long-winded enough explanation for you?  Great, let’s get on with it.  Today’s book is Just My Type: Understanding Personality Profiles by Michael J Rosen and Daniel Carlson.  I received a copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Personality tests have become increasingly popular in the digital age. Examine a wide variety of online personality assessments, and learn how to distinguish useful applications from biased typecasting.

just my type

What I Expected:

An in-depth foray into the often hilarious, always conversation-worthy topic of personality testing, possibly including fun, interactive examples of personality tests for readers to try out on their friends. Or themselves.

What I Got:

An 80-ish page brief overview of all the major historical and modern means of personality testing, with a few snippets of some of the tests here and there.

I’ve read a number of textbooks and articles throughout my years of tertiary study focusing on the nature of personality, and methods of personality profiling.  One memorable non-study-related read on the topic I can recommend is Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You by Sam Gosling.  I was really hoping that Just My Type would be a similarly humorous and entertaining read.

It wasn’t.

While the information provided in the book is accurate, informative and pitched perfectly at those who need an overview or starting point for further research in the area of personality profiling, I was somewhat disappointed that it wasn’t longer and didn’t provide larger excerpts from the various personality testing devices that were covered.  I was hoping for a book that would give me the tools to publicly wax lyrical on the undesirable personality traits of those sitting opposite me at a dinner party, based on sound pseudo-scientific historical practices, or, if it came to it, up-to-the-minute psychological theories.

Despite my disappointment at the fact that the book is clearly lacking in features to assist the reader to embarrass their friends and bring low their enemies, if you are looking for an accessible, concise, historical overview of the psychological theories about what the personality is, how it develops, how it can be defined using interesting tests and how these tests can be used and misused to label individuals and subdue troublemakers, then I would heartily recommend Just My Type to you.

  alphabet soup challenge 2016** I’m submitting this title for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge **

Until next time,

Bruce

Shouty Doris Interjects during…The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend (plus Recommend Your Favourite Bookstore and Win Stuff!)

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RBW-Blog-Tour-Graphic

Shouty Doris interjects

It’s Shouty Doris’s first outing of the  year and boy is she champing at the bit to interject on today’s book!  If you love books that feature books and/or bookstores then you’ll definitely want to prick up your ears for The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald, which we received from Sourcebooks Landmark via Netgalley.  We are part of the official blog tour, part of which is a sweepstakes asking readers to name their favourite bookstore and win prizes!  If you’d like to participate, just read on to the end of this post, where the information will be waiting for you.

Now let’s get into it. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…


Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds that Amy’s funeral has just ended. Luckily, the townspeople are happy to look after their bewildered tourist—even if they don’t understand her peculiar need for books. Marooned in a farm town that’s almost beyond repair, Sara starts a bookstore in honor of her friend’s memory. All she wants is to share the books she loves with the citizens of Broken Wheel and to convince them that reading is one of the great joys of life. But she makes some unconventional choices that could force a lot of secrets into the open and change things for everyone in town.

Reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this is a warm, witty book about friendship, stories, and love.the readers of broken wheel recommend

The first thing you need to know about this book is that it is a translation from the original Swedish.  Translations, in my experience, can be a bit iffy if not done well, but I don’t think the typical reader would even notice that English wasn’t the original language of the story if it wasn’t pointed out to them.

Shouty Doris interjects

I’m just glad the book came fully assembled and not in a flatpack.

I wouldn’t have minded, honestly.  Okay, I promise that’s the last Sweden = Ikea reference for the rest of this review.

Shouty Doris interjectsI make no such promise.

The second thing you should know about this one is that while it is definitely and unequivocally a book about books (and bookstores) it can just as unequivocally be labelled “chick-lit” with all the positive and negative associations that such a label might entail.  I was thoroughly drawn in by the concept of travelling across the world to meet up with someone who has just-this-minute kicked the bucket.  Oddly though, the loss of Amy (Sara’s penpal) was only explored obliquely, through Sara’s decision to open the bookstore using Amy’s vast personal library as a starting point.  Amy’s letters to Sara were also used throughout the book to give a bit of background information on the folk who populate Broken Wheel, which was a nifty touch.

Shouty Doris interjects

I would have preferred more Sweden and less Broken Wheel, if you want my opinion.  I’ve never come across such a depressing bunch of sadsacks as that Broken Wheel lot.  If I was in charge of the universe, I would have taken a tyre jack and replaced the whole town long before they could make it into a novel.

I’m trying not to think about the state the universe would be in if you were in charge of it, Doris, but be that as it may, you do raise a good point.  At the beginning of the tale, Broken Wheel and its inhabitants are a pretty morose lot, given that the economic future of the town doesn’t look so good.  As the story goes on, Sara’s activities in the town rally the residents to start some new projects and adopt some civic pride, but for the first third of the book, forming a bond with the Broken Wheel lot is a bit of a slog.

I loved the description of Sara setting up the bookshop, as it sounds like just the kind of place any self-respecting bookworm would love to inhabit.

Shouty Doris interjectsI’m surprised she didn’t use the Kallax square shelving system complimented with Tisdag lighting selections and the rounded, cosy couches of the Ektorp series.  It would have given the shop a chic, European feel.

Enough with the IKEA references now.

Shouty Doris interjectsSpoilsport.

Although for most of the book, I found it completely inexplicable that people – any people, anywhere – would be ambivalent, or openly hostile towards, the opening of a bookshop.  This was another reason it took me a while to warm to the inhabitants of Broken Wheel – I could honestly not fathom that a person exists in the world who would not be positively disposed to the sudden appearance of a bookshop in their midst.

Shouty Doris interjectsParticularly when their town is so depressing and lacklustre to begin with.

Yes, I think we’ve covered that.

There is a romance subplot here that fervent readers of chick-lit will just adore, between Sara and Amy’s nephew, neither of whom are willing participants to begin with.  Sara’s voice also generates a some fine moments of dry (and not so dry) observation that were quite amusing.

Shouty Doris interjectsI quite liked the bit about the gay erotica shelf.

Yes, that was a highlight for me too.

Bivald has peppered the story with references to all sorts of books, from classics to biographies to Bridget Jones, and I’m sure some readers will savour the chance of using these references to add more books to their TBR lists.

Overall, while I found the story a bit slow-going at times, I think this is going to be warmly received by those who are looking for a comfort read, or would like their faith in the power of reading to solve all of society’s ills bolstered.

Now, onto the sweepstakes!

ReadersRecommend_logo (3)

The “Readers, Recommend Your Bookstore Campaign” is inspired by the phenomenal support booksellers have given The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald, which was selected as the #1 Indie Next Great Read for January 2016

Anyone can nominate their favorite bookstore at http://books.sourcebooks.com/readers-recommend-your-bookstore-sweepstakes/. Sourcebooks will award the winning bookstore with a $3,000 prize; two additional bookstores will each receive a $637 prize (the population of Bivald’s fictional Broken Wheel, Iowa). In addition to bookstores receiving prizes, weekly giveaways for those who nominate will be held throughout the campaign. Voting began January 4, and runs until February 19, when the winning bookstores will be announced.

Until next time,

Bruce (and Doris)

A Posthumous GSQ Review: Spoiler Alert (You’re Gonna Die)…

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imageToday I have a book for those for whom the stench of a decomposing corpse fires up curiosity, rather than the vomiting reflex.  We received Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die by Korttany Finn and Jacquie Purcell from the publisher via Netgalley and found a delightful little book in Q&A format that is the perfect introduction for those wishing to scratch the itch of curiosity surrounding what happens to the dead immediately after death.  Let’s begin with the blurb from Goodreads:

One thing that you can be sure in life, is that it is going to end. How’s that for a buzzkill? A real life coroner challenged a few thousand internet strangers to ask her anything. The result is a collection of morbid and slightly embarrassing questions all about The End. Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die! will leave you with a new perspective on life. Print

The Good

imageIf you have any sort of interest in the workings of the death trade – that is, those people whose job it is to deal with the dead in any manner – then this is a concise and easy-to-read introduction that should suit you perfectly.  The questions and answers are divided into a number of categories both for ease of reference and so (I assume) you can skip over the bits that don’t interest you/gross you out/make you feel a bit weird for being too interested in them.  The book covers a pretty broad range of content, from information about the types of qualifications and work experience that you might need if you are thinking of getting into work in the post-life industry, to lesser-known methods for body disposal for those who think burial or cremation is too mundane, to what exactly goes on during an autopsy.  The book never gets too in-depth on any one topic so I wouldn’t recommend it for those who really want specifics on a certain area – although if you are looking for a book of that nature I would certainly recommend Working Stiff by Judy Melinek or Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlyn Doughty or even Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, which I read way back in that mystical time before I started blogging – but it’s certainly a thorough and accessible introduction.

The introductions to each category written by Korttany Finn are quite funny and Jacquie Purcell has mastered the art of dry humour, so you won’t get too bogged down in the sadness and unsightliness of close encounters with corpses.

The Sad

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The saddest part of my reading experience here is that I wanted it to be longer.  I wasn’t prepared for such a concise tome and so I was disappointed that it wasn’t more in-depth.  Also, although this is no fault of the authors, there were a whole lot of questions in the first section that are specific to the USA (and in some instances specific to the state in which Purcell works), which prompted the slightly irritating realisation that if I wanted to know about how things work in Australia, I would have to research it myself.  As my natural laziness prevents me from doing any such research, I will have to live with this feeling of slight irritation, until someone publishes and places in my hands a book which focuses on post-death practices in Australia.  **Newsflash! I just did a microsecond of research and found out that coroners in Australia are mostly lawyers or magistrates and one of the main roles of the coroner’s court is to investigate deaths that may have an impact on public safety (eg: bushfire related deaths) in order to improve policy and practice around these events to ensure that they are prevented or minimised in future**

The Quirkyimage

The fact that this book features answers by a coroner, as opposed to a funeral director or someone who does the work of handling corpses in some capacity, the perspective is slightly different from other books I’ve read on the topic.  It took me a few moments to realise that I wasn’t actually 100% sure what a coroner does, although I had some ideas.  Those who love crime shows like CSI will probably think they have a good idea about what a coroner does, but this book might change their minds!

Also, the book grew out of a question and answer thread run by Purcell on a parenting blog, so it’s good to know that the questions in the book were actually asked by actual people and therefore, if you have ever idly pondered similar questions, you are not as weird and morbid as you think you are.

Overall I found this to be an interesting interlude on my quest to read lots of books about death, with some fascinating information that I certainly hadn’t considered before.  If you are interested in this topic, but you’re looking for a reasonably quick read, then I’d certainly recommend you pick this one up.

alphabet soup challenge 2016

*I’m submitting this book for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge*

Until next time,

Bruce (and his psyche)

 

Moth Girls and Crystal Cadets: A Double-Dip Review…

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imageGrab your snack of choice and slather it in a conglomeration of sauces because it’s time for the first double-dip review of 2016!  Today I have a YA, not-your-average-murder-mystery and a manga-style graphic novel for the younger middle grade set.  I received both of today’s titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s get dipping!

First up, we have Moth Girls by Annie Cassidy.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Helplessly drawn like moths to the light, two girls go missing in an evocative and gripping tale . . .

They called them the Moth Girls because they were attracted to the house. They were drawn to it. Or at least that is what is written in the newspapers that Mandy reads on the anniversary of when her two best friends went missing. Five years have passed since Petra and Tina were determined to explore the dilapidated house on Princess Street. But what started off as a dare ended with the two girls vanishing. As Mandy’s memories of the disappearance of her two friends are ignited once again, disturbing details will resurface in her mind.

Dip into it for…moth girls

…an in-depth examination of teen friendships, loyalty and the impact of disappearances on those left behind.  Needless to say, there are some twists in this book and I’m not going to say much about them lest I spoil the reading experience for others.  The story is told in a number of parts, some focused on the present and some on the time of the girls’ disappearance.  As more details are revealed, it is clear that the friendship between Mandy, Petra and Tina was rocky at times and there are other factors at play that contributed to the mystery surrounding the big house.  This is certainly one pitched at the upper end of the YA market for its complex interweaving of different storylines.

Don’t dip if…

you find mopey teens annoying.  Mandy is, admittedly, a bit of a pill and despite being the main character is the least interesting of the three girls.  Thankfully, the other voices and shifting timeframes generally compensate for this.  Also, if you don’t like a circuitous story, this is definitely not for you.  There are plenty of loose ends that are gradually tied up (although some are left hanging!), and the jumping between points of view requires some good memory on the part of the reader.

Overall Dip Factor

This turned out to be a solid, well-realised mystery story that ended with a twist that was simultaneously unexpected and completely logical.  I would definitely recommend this to those looking for a read focusing on younger characters, but featuring some pretty heavy issues, without any sense of “This is YA fiction” about it. 

Next up we have Crystal Cadets by Anne Toole, Katie O’Neill and Paulina Ganucheau.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Tantalizing and lively – Booklist Cadets Go! Join this team of darkness-fighting, world-saving, power-packed teen girls from all over the world on their first adventure! Zoe has always felt out of place; her foster parents are great and all, but she’s long felt like something was missing. That is, of course, until she discovers a mysterious gem left to her by her birth mother and her whole universe gets flipped around! When the crystal grants Zoe mysterious powers of light she becomes the Diamond Cadet, and she’s not the only one; suddenly she’s meeting new friends who shoot flames and glowing green arrows. It’s all fun at first, but when The Darkness possesses Zoe’s foster parents her only choice is to join this wild group of action-hero girls, traveling the globe to defeat The Darkness and find a cure!”

Dip into it for…crystal cadets

…an action-packed tale of girl power that will remind you of lazy hours spent watching Saturday morning cartoons.  The art is manga-style and will appeal, I suspect, to those who do like a cartoonish style and the characters are a diverse bunch of young ladies from various countries, all of whom have been chosen to be guardians of the earth.  The style and simple plot will appeal to the younger end of the middle grade market and the concept of all-powerful, butt-kicking young girls with the ability to summon cute flying mythical mounts in order to save the world is designed to draw in the female demographic.

Don’t Dip if…

…you’re after a graphic novel featuring an in-depth plot, or indeed, any real explanation of the workings behind the girls’ powers.  The storyline is devoid of much information regarding how these girls got their powers (apart from the fact that they have been “passed down” from their mothers) and each girl seems to accept her new powers without question.  There is also a bit of a corny tone to the plot with the “Darkness” feeding off bad behaviour – cheating, lying and bad manners, for example – and at times it felt a little bit too preachy for me.

Overall Dip Factor

I’m really unsure how current readers of graphic novels in the middle-grade age bracket will take this one.  While the action is non-stop from start to finish, the themes of female friendship, teamwork and “being good” feel a bit overdone and didactic.  This might be better engaged as a “gateway” read for non-readers of graphic novels at the lower end of the middle grade age bracket to bolster a positive perception of graphic novels amongst reluctant readers.

There we are then – two very different tomes, but hopefully something that might take you back for a second dip.

Until next time,

Bruce