Fiction in 50 February Challenge: Raising the Bar…

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

It’s once again time for Fiction in 50, that wily mistress of a challenge in which participants attempt to create a piece of prose or poetry in fewer than 51 words based on a prompt. Come along, join in! The prompt for this month is…

raising the bar

I took this month’s prompt somewhat literally and for American readers, my story may make little sense if they are unfamiliar with a certain famous amusing song penned by one English comedian (and Doctor Who favourite!) Bernard Cribbins.  I have included a video of the song at the end of this post, in an attempt to provide some context around an otherwise pretty bland attempt at the prompt.  I have titled my contribution…

In Training

After all this training he was still getting nowhere.

“Right”, said Fred.  He brewed a cup of tea, drank it down and strode out to the yard.

He straightened his sporran, made sure of his grip.

The caber barely wobbled.

Damn it, Fred thought.

 He would have to consult Charlie.


If you would like to play along – and we’d love you to! – just create your challenge piece and post a link to it in the comments for this post for others to visit.  For those who like to be prepared, next month’s prompt will be…

button (3)

And here’s that video I promised you: Bernard Cribbins’ “Right Said Fred” enacted in Lego…

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Leap into Books Giveaway Hop!

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leap-into-books-2016Welcome to my stop on the Leap into Books Giveaway Hop, kindly hosted by Bookhounds and running from February 28th to March 7th.  I am giving one lucky winner their choice of any book from the Book Depository up to the value of $10 AUD.  To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter link below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

But this is a hop, don’t forget, so now it’s time for you to hop along (Ribbit, Ribbit!) and win some more stuff.  Click on the link below for the other blogs participating in this hop.

Powered by Linky Tools

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

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

TBR Friday…and a Fi50 Reminder!

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTONBefore we kick off with another TBR Friday, allow me to remind you that Fiction in 50 for February opens on Monday, with the prompt…

raising the bar

To participate, just create a piece of poetry or prose in fewer than 51 words and link it up or post it in the comments of the Fi50 post on Monday.  For more detailed instructions and future prompts, just click here.

Now, on to…

TBR Friday

Today’s book is Grounded by Kate Klise, a middle grade historical fiction.

grounded

Ten Second Synopsis:

After Daralynn’s father, brother and sister are killed in a plane accident, she and her mother find it hard to relate to each other, despite providing hair styling in tandem at her mother’s new salon. Daralynn has enough trouble trying to hide the hundreds of dolls she received after the deaths from her Mamaw, who is sliding into dementia, without having to worry about the frosty atmosphere at home.  Then the charming Mr Clem moves into town with his new crematorium, sweeping Aunt Josie off her feet and threatening Daralynn’s mother’s other job at the funeral home and Daralynn discovers that sometimes not even the grown-ups have all the answers.

Time on the TBR shelf:

Almost two years!! Since March 10th, 2014

Acquired:

From the Book Depository, because it was a middle grade novel featuring funerals.  I subsequently bought every single book in Kate Klise’s 43 Old Cemetery Road series…and have only read one. Oops.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

Other shiny, newer books have taken my fantasy.  I have also been keeping it back; half because I thought it might be great, so I’ll keep it in reserve, half because I was scared it would be a bit crap and didn’t want to be disappointed.

Best Bits:

  • This is an absolute gem of a middle grade read – historical fiction (set in the 60s – I think), dealing with grief and family cracks, with a strong female protagonist who is absolutely ordinary and relatable
  • The writing had a very mature feel about it for a middle grade novel, meaning that young readers won’t feel patronised while reading about difficult topics
  • Daralynn is a girl stood apart – unusually, she is the protagonist and only young character (apart from a few passing cameos) in the novel.  No side kick, no bully, no nothing.  This worked impressively well I thought and definitely sets this book apart from the common crowd
  • There is a twist and a mystery in the plot that I DID NOT SEE COMING.  Nicely played, Klise.
Less Impressive Bits:
  • I got nothing.  This is an extremely impressive read.
On reflection, was this worth buying?
Absolutely.  You should probably buy it too, especially if you happen to be a teacher in a middle grade classroom looking for a crackingly engaging book for your more able readers.
Where to now for this tome?
To the permanent shelf, STAT!
Right then, that’s handhold number three done and dusted and what an addition to the challenge it was.  Obviously, I will be submitting this one to the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block:
Mount TBR 2016

I’m also submitting it towards my Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge, hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check out my progress for that challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Utopirama: Book Cover Designs

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It’s been a good long while, but the time has finally come for another Utopirama post!  For those unfamiliar with the concept of my Utopirama posts, the idea is to present some reading options for those times when you just need a book that will inspire feelings of calm and relaxation.  Cosy reads, if you will, in which nothing bad happens and only the good things intrinsic to living in this crazy world are highlighted.  Today’s book is one for all of you, I can just tell: Book Cover Designs by Matthew Goodman.  Yes indeedy, this is a book about book covers.  Brilliant!

We received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Browse more than 500 book cover designs and listen to more than 50 of today’s top designers discuss their process for creating the perfect book cover. Award-winning creative professionals fromaround the world have applied astonishingly clever cover concepts that playslyly on titles and themes of international bestsellers, both classic andmodern, adding new dimensions to the books and breathing new lifeinto bright ideas. Literature lovers and graphic illustrators of all types, aswell as book design students and professionals, will relish thisinspiring collection of covers of fiction and nonfiction, history and sciencebooks, novels and short stories, from old favorites to popular 21st-centurytitles. For future designers looking for inspiration, as well as hopeless coverlovers, Book Cover Designs is a must-have design reference for any collection. Feelfree to judge these books by their covers.

book cover designsQuick Overview:

Essentially, this book does what it says on the proverbial tin, providing pages and pages and pages of mesmerising book covers for your viewing pleasure.  The book is divided by designer, with each featured designer having an introductory page in which their background and design approach is listed, followed by a number of pages of their designs.  The perfect coffee table book, Book Cover Designs offers a wonderful selection of covers of which some will be familiar and some will be so fresh and intriguing that you’ll rush off to pop the title on your TBR list.

The only niggle that I could find in these pages is the fact that the majority of the designers featured are young and Caucasian.  This may not be a bother to you in the slightest if you are focusing on the covers themselves, but I thought it a shame that there wasn’t a greater diversity of designers – in age and race particularly – and their work, presented.  Perhaps that could be something for the publishers to consider when signing off on Book Cover Designs: The Second Edition!  Similarly, the books featured here are generally adult titles (with a few YA thrown in) and I would dearly love to see the same concept developed using children’s books.

Whatever though, if you are a fan of reading and you enjoy a good browse, you will definitely derive pleasure from flicking through this tome.

Utopian themes:

Guilt-free judgement

A Reader’s Paradise

Aesthetic Pleasure

Cover Love

Protective Bubble-o-Meter:

protective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubble

3 out of 5 protective bubbles for the reverent first touch of a brand new book cover

Until next time,

Bruce

Yarning with Mad Martha about Crochet Stories: Grimm’s Fairy Tales…

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yarning with mad martha_Fotor (2)

Welcome, my dears, to another yarning session with me, Mad Martha.  If you are a fan of fairy tales and crafting, then today’s book is sure to delight and inspire!  I speak of Crochet Stories: Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Vanessa Putt, which I gratefully received from the publisher via Netgalley, and immediately immersed myself in, hook at the ready.  Before I show you my completed glories, let’s take a closer look at the book itself.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Practitioners of amigurumi, the Japanese art of crocheting stuffed dolls, will adore this collection of sixteen playful patterns for fairy-tale figures. Projects include the witch and the gingerbread house as well as the hero and heroine of “Hansel and Gretel”; the giant and the golden goose of “Jack and the Beanstalk” in addition to the beanstalk and Jack himself; the long-haired captive of “Rapunzel,” her lonely tower, and her rescuer, the prince; the animals of “The Hare and the Hedgehog” plus a juicy carrot; and the wee subject of “Tom Thumb” and his cow.


Clear instructions for creating the characters are accompanied by color photos of the finished products along with charming retellings of all five fairy tales. An introductory chapter offers general notes and tips, including pointers on working in the round, stuffing, measurements, and finishing.

79461-X_Putt_1015ek.indd

Just from that front cover, I could tell that this would be a charmingly whimsical repository of achievable patterns.  What I didn’t expect was the inclusion, before each pattern set, of a traditional version of each fairy tale.  Each of these covered a couple of pages and I felt they were a neat set-up for each of the pattern sets – as well as providing the option for eager mini-fleshlings to act out the story with the dolls as it is being read.

After flipping hastily through the pages, I decided that my first attempt would be creating the witch from the Hansel and Gretel tale, mainly on account of her alluring hair.  You can see the image of the witch on the front cover there – top right hand corner.  I am pleased to say that the pattern was clear and easy to follow and the witch worked up in a jiff!  Here she is:

witchDespite being reasonably experienced at amigurumi, I do think this is a pattern that is simple enough for a beginner to follow, with no particular tricks or traps.  In fact, the witch is probably a bit easier than the standard person shape because she is worked in only two colours and there’s no need to complete legs…so a win for the first pattern I tried!

Next up, I couldn’t resist having a go at the heart-meltingly sweet giant from the Jack and the Beanstalk tale, dressed up as he is in his dear little lumberjack guise.  Bless!  Here he is:

giant

The perfect gift for a hipster, craft-beer-brewing friend! This pattern was significantly trickier than that for the witch because of the colour-changes needed, the addition of legs and the patterning on the shirt.  The giant took me a little longer than expected and I felt that the hook size recommended in the pattern was a touch too big for my preferences, but I am extremely happy with the result of this pattern nonetheless.  Especially the beard – gorgeous!

As well as the people and animals in the tales, there are also structures to craft, including bruce and witchthe witch’s gingerbread house, the beanstalk and Rapunzel’s tower.  I didn’t have quite the level of commitment to go ahead and complete them for you, but they are a fun inclusion (and a worthy challenge) for those who want to make a complete playset.  I absolutely adored the golden eggs in the Jack and the Beanstalk tale, and tiny Tom Thumb would be a fun challenge for those who like to use a smaller hook.

Overall, I was very pleased with this book.  Even though there aren’t any picture tutorials, the patterns are clear and include recommended yarn types and colours.  The patterns cover a range of skill levels and techniques, which are clearly stated at the beginning of the patterns.  I’m not convinced that this would necessarily work for an absolute beginner at crochet, but for those who know the basic stitches and want to branch out into simple amigurumi, this would be a sterling choice!

mountainside dinner

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Ghostly Murders” Edition…

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Welcome to another Reading Round-Up.  I hope you’ve got your paranormal crime-solving hat on today because you’ll need it to round up this group of titles.  All of the books we’ll be chasing down today feature a crime plus at least one ghost and we were lucky enough to receive two of them from the publisher via Netgalley.  The other one we got out of the library.  Let’s kick off with that one, shall we?  It’s early YA mystery series opener…

Mondays are Murder  (Tanya Landman)

Two Sentence Synopsis: mondays are murder

Poppy’s mum sends her to a week-long camp as one of five “guinea pig” kids to test a out a new adventure sport centre before it opens to the public. When Poppy gets to the camp on a desolate island and people start dropping dead from apparent accidents, things start to get serious and Poppy uses her sharp observational skills to try and find the killer before the island becomes unpopulated.

Muster up the motivation because:

At just over one hundred pages, this is a murder mystery that doesn’t hang around and wait for you to catch up.  Straight from the off, we are privy to a seriously nasty “accident” and very soon after that we are introduced to the adult cast – all of whom had better have their wits about them if they don’t want to end up in a murderer’s sights.  Poppy is a likeable narrator and is possessed of very sharp observational skills.  I must say that I was very pleased that Landman decided not to make these skills “extraordinary” or feel the need to give Poppy any other strange quirks.  It was refreshing to read an ordinary teen girl character with some talents in a particular area that aren’t linked to any label or diagnosis.  Graham, Poppy’s schoolmate and partner in not-dying, is also a fun character and I think the pair make an excellent combination. There is a ghostly element to the plot that is not overdone and while the pace is quite quick, as murder mysteries go, there are enough clues and red herrings dropped to keep young fanciers of detective stories well and truly engaged. I enjoyed this brief yet action-packed foray into Landman’s world, so I will definitely be popping a few more of Poppy and Graham’s adventures on my library reserve list.

Brand it with:

Not the outdoorsy type, What could possibly go wrong?, Summer holiday fun

I am submitting this title for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check on my progress for this challenge here.

Next up we have a cosy mystery for lovers of character-driven series:

The Girls in the Woods: Annie Graham Mysteries #5 (Helen Phifer)

Ten Second Synopsis:  girls in the woods

When a skeleton turns up in the woods in Annie’s town, she tries to stay out of things and concentrate on having a happy pregnancy. As more bodies turn up and Annie’s niece goes missing, it looks like Annie will have no choice but to go in on the frontline of investigation.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a murder mystery with a whole lot going on.  There’s a paranormal element in that Annie can see dead people – indeed they seem to seek her out – there is a heavy dose of domestic violence and more than a passing nod to the Memento Mori photographers of Victorian times.  I didn’t find it was a big problem not having read the earlier books in this series.  The plot was easy enough to follow, but there were some references to Annie’s prior adventures that were quite intriguing and so in that regard it would probably be worth starting at the beginning with this series.  It is made obvious from the beginning and throughout who the perpetrator of the killings is in this novel, but there were a couple of cheeky twists right toward the end that should prove satisfactory to those looking for a more complicated read.  I really liked the premise of this particular murder mystery despite the fact that some aspects of it beggared belief – surely someone would comment on the whacking great mortuary fridges tucked away in the killer’s garage?! – but there were a number of sections that concentrated on developing character relationships that I probably would have appreciated more had I read the earlier books.  As it was I just wanted Annie to get on and solve it!

Brand it with:

If you love her, let her go; fun with photography; I see dead people

And finally, one for the banter-fiends with:

The Haunting of Melmerby Manor: Spookies #1 (David W. Robinson)

Ten Second Synopsis:melmerby manor

Paranormal investigator Lady Concepta Rand-Epping (Sceptre), ex-cop Pete Brennan and all-round chicken Kevin Keeley make up the Spookies detection agency…despite the fact that one of them is a card-carrying sceptic where the paranormal is concerned.  When a routine investigation of a haunted manor house reveals 2500 pirated DVDs, the influence of the paranormal may give way to a much more mundane sort of danger.

Muster up the motivation because:  

If you enjoy a rollicking sort of tale featuring quirky characters and a lot of banter then you’ll probably get a kick out of this one.  Along with the three protagonists mentioned above, Sceptre is ably assisted by the centuries-dead gentleman’s gentleman of her ancestral home, Fishwick, who handles some of the herding of the recently deceased toward the Light.  Along with the host of paranormal characters generally bothering our heroes, the trio becomes inveigled in a more down-to-earth problem involving local thugs and a pirate DVD racket.  I quite enjoyed the paranormal elements to be honest and the banter between the three main characters was a lot of fun but the sections dealing with the pirate DVDs slowed things down, such that by the end I was feeling that this was an okay read, but not great.  While this title didn’t particularly do it for me,  I can see it having a great appeal to those who enjoy irreverent urban fantasy with a realistic, edgy twist in the style of Guy Adams or Lee Battersby.

Brand it with:

Keep your friends close; dirty old men; dirty DVDs done dirt cheap

Get them before they get you my friends!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

A Trio of MG Mysteries: The Shelf Revisits Knightley and Son (+ a Giveaway!)

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imageIt has been a good long while since we at the shelf first encountered the middle grade mystery debut, Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin, but out of the blue last month Bloomsbury Australia kindly sent us copies of the first two books of the Knightley and Son series – being the aforementioned Knightley and Son and Knightley and Son: K-9 – dressed in quite alluring new covers.  Admittedly, this inspired mixed feelings – more about that in a bit – but our feelings were about to be thoroughly tossed about by the arrival on our doorstep of the third book in the series – 3 of a Kind.  Let it never be said that Bloomsbury is not generous with their review copies!

And speaking of generosity, ONE lucky reader (who happens to also be AUSTRALIAN! – sorry, international readers) will have the chance to win PAPERBACK COPIES of THE FIRST THREE books in the Knightley and Son detective series!! You’re welcome!

Let’s get the giveaway business over with so our non-Australian friends can get back to enjoying my review.  To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link.  Ts and Cs and in the rafflecopter.  The giveaway will be open until February 25th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

For those who are unaware, Knightley and Son is a middle grade detective series featuring Darkus “Doc” Knightley, his father Alan Knightley and his step-sister, Tilly, as they battle against the formidable, mysterious and manipulative Combination – a shadowy organisation that has some seriously dastardly plans in mind for the innocent folk of London (and the wider world).  We first came across the first book in the series in early 2014 and reviewed it at the time.  For those who missed it, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Meet Knightley and Son – two great detectives for the price of one …

Darkus Knightley is not your average thirteen-year-old: ferociously logical, super-smart and with a fondness for tweed, detective work is in his blood. His dad Alan Knightley was London’s top private investigator and an expert in crimes too strange for Scotland Yard to handle, but four years ago the unexplained finally caught up with him – and he fell into a mysterious coma. Darkus is determined to follow in his father’s footsteps and find out what really happened. But when Alan suddenly wakes up, his memory is wonky and he needs help. The game is afoot for Knightley & Son – with a mystery that gets weirder by the minute, a bestselling book that makes its readers commit terrible crimes, and a sinister organisation known as the Combination …

A funny, warm, fantastical crime caper with an unlikely hero and a brilliant comic cast, perfect for fans of Sherlock and criminally good storytelling.

Knightley and Son 1

If you’re wondering why that cover doesn’t look at all familiar, considering we have featured this book on the blog before, that’s probably because the original cover looked more like this:

k & s…which is also quite alluring.  If you want to wade into the thoughts of the shelf circa January 2014, my entire review of the book can be found here.  For those of you who ain’t got no time for that, the essence of my feelings on the book can be summarised in this handy quote from the review:

“I found pretty much all of the characters in this book to be fairly two-dimensional which distracted me from the story.  I couldn’t go along with the more fantastical elements of the plot because I didn’t even believe the ordinary people, doing ordinary things, were authentic.  Going hand in hand with the flat characters was the unfolding of the plot in a whole host of pat and convenient ways.  Things just seemed to work out too simply for my tastes.  I didn’t feel that there were enough major setbacks for the characters to overcome, as solutions to problems seemed to conveniently pop up just when they were needed in ways that didn’t require the characters to struggle particularly hard.  Given the complicated nature of the actual crime that was being investigated, once again, things just didn’t ring true.”

Ouch! Looking back on things now, having read the next two in the series, this criticism was probably a little bit harsh.  There were a few elements of the book that didn’t work for me as a reader, but overall the book was an “okay” read.  After finishing this one, I actually noted that:

I will see the next book in the series, with its no-doubt eye-popping cover art, and will be reminded of the disappoint-ivity that blossomed into great blossoming clouds as I delved deeper into this book. Sigh.

So melodramatic, Bruce-of-the-past!! But I did promise myself that I was not going to pursue this series any further….UNTIL shiny new paperback copies were thrust under my prominent nose.  And it would be plain rude not to have a crack at free books, if someone went to the trouble of sending them.

The good news is that….I didn’t hate the next two books!

Here’s the blurb for book two, K-9, from Goodreads:

Darkus Knightley – tweed-wearing, mega-brained, thoroughly logical 13-year-old investigator of the weird – was just getting used to having his dad back in his life. Then Alan Knightley went off-radar, again, leaving Darkus with a traumatised ex-bomb-disposal dog as his only partner in crime-solving.

Now things are getting even stranger. Family pets are being savaged by a beast at a top London beauty spot. Policemen have been tracked and attacked by a particularly aggressive canine. And two curiously alert hounds seem to be watching Darkus’s house. No one is using the word werewolf – yet – but as the full moon approaches, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work out that someone or something sinister is messing with the minds of London’s dog population. A mysterious canine conspiracy is howling for the attention of Knightley & Son …

Criminally good detective adventure, perfect for fans of Sherlock and sharp-minded sleuths of all shapes and sizes …

k-9

Out of all three books, I enjoyed this one the most.  The story was just complicated enough to be interesting, without having twists that were too complex or unbelievable for the age group.  The characters – particularly Uncle Bill – were generally less annoying to me (although I will make an exception for Clive, who seems to be trying for the “Most Annoying Character Ever Penned” award), and I really liked the inclusion of Wilbur, the ex-war dog.  We get to find out a little more about each of the characters here, and I particularly enjoyed seeing another side of Darkus, which is developed through his work with Wilbur.  Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable and engaging read, despite the fact that my favourite character, Tilly, was missing from the plot for a good deal of the book.  The ending left a question mark over the detective agency’s continuation and generally, the two-dimensionality that so irked me in the first book seemed to be slowly oozing away.  Essentially, while I didn’t love it to bits and some characters were still giving me the irits, K-9’s focused plot seemed like an improvement over book one.

On then, to Three of a Kind.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Who will hold the winning hand? Sherlock meets Ocean’s Eleven in this wickedly funny, action-packed crime caper.

Darkus Knightley is used to expecting the unexpected. An extraordinary solver of crimes, with immense powers of deduction, and regularly found bedecked in tweed, Darkus is anything but the average 13-year-old. But he is the person to call when strange goings-on are afoot!

Despite trying to leave his detective ways behind to lead a normal teenage life, when his father’s loyal housekeeper, Bogna, goes missing, Darkus must return to the family fold and follow the clues to America and the bright lights of Las Vegas. Alongside his father, Alan, and stepsister, Tilly, Darkus must once again face the deadly criminal organisation the Combination – and this time, all bets are off. With danger at every turn, Knightley and Son will need an ace or two up their sleeves in order to win this game. Will the odds be in our detective duo’s favour? Or will this be the Knightleys’ final roll of the dice?

Perfect for fans of Sherlock, this thrilling crime adventure will keep you on the edge of your seats.

three of a kind

Three of a Kind took on a “road trip” format, with Darkus, Tilly and Alan jetting off to the USA in pursuit of housekeeper Bogna, who it appears has been kidnapped by the Combination in order to force the Knightley’s into some bizarre kind of game.  Excepting Clive, who I would be quite happy to whack in the face with a brick, the characters  hardly irritated me at all throughout this book.  Win! The road trip element was also an interesting touch, with some of the places visited – Survival Town, particularly – laden with the potential for imaginative exploration.  Unfortunately, not a lot of time was devoted to each place – the Knightley’s are on a time-sensitive chase, after all – but again, the plot seemed quite focused and featured enough variety in setting to keep the reader on their toes.  I was quite impressed with the action-packed, firecracker ending of this one, and was a bit sorry that the same level of adventure couldn’t have come into the story earlier.  We also get to find out more about Tilly’s mother in this one, with some quite shocking secrets revealed that cause Tilly no end of identity-crises.

The biggest problem that I have with these books is that there isn’t enough suspense woven into the story to keep me turning the pages.  I feel like the foundations are all there to have a brilliant series of books, but the actual stories are lacking in atmosphere.  Perhaps the amount of attention that has gone into creating quirky characters (and every character in these books has at least one obvious quirk) has been at the expense of developing a pervading sense of menace and danger in the plot.

I suspect that if I was a typical reader – ie: not a reader who chews through 100+ books a year just on this blog – and was wandering in a library or bookshop, I might well think, “Oh look, the next Knightley and Son! Why yes, I’ll have that!”  But as things stand, I want more from this series to really be satisfied.

Until next time,

Bruce