Shouty Doris Interjects during…Fellside!

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Shouty Doris interjects

Shouty Doris and I are pleased to welcome you today to our review of a book that has certainly had us talking –

Shouty Doris interjects

-arguing-

-…yes, whatever…more than any other tome so far this year!  I speak of Fellside by M.R. Carey, a paranormal, magical realist, hard-bitten jaunt inside a women’s prison.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to end up. But it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.

It’s a place where even the walls whisper.

And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.

Will she listen?

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Before we get into it, I should point out that the above blurb gives almost no indication of the depth of story that is explored in this book.  This is one hefty tome, make no mistake, so one shouldn’t go into it thinking it’s all about one young woman and her hopes for redemption.

Shouty Doris interjects

That’s right.  You should go into it thinking it’s about drugs and sex.

Well.  Yes.  There is a considerable amount of drug-smuggling, drug-taking (both in accordance with, and against, medical advice) and general druggery going on within these pages (as indeed one might expect from a book set within a prison), and to a lesser extent, a reasonable amount of sex (extra marital and otherwise).  Also, perhaps, as one might expect from a book set in a prison.

I did not consider this before reading, and therefore I was a little bit shocked by the grittiness of the plot.

Shouty Doris interjects

You old prude.

Indeed!  The main character of the tale is Jess Moulson, a young heroin addict who is convicted of murder after setting a fire that inadvertently caused the death of a ten-year-old boy living in the apartment above her.  The story overall is Jess’s story, as she attempts redemption and tries to remodel herself in the dark, dingy underbelly of the maximum security wing of Fellside.

Apart from Jess’s story, we are also treated to chapters from the point of view of a whole host of other characters – the cowardly, get-along-to-go-along Dr Salazar, the spiteful Nurse Stock, a warder on the up in the drug trade of the prison known as The Devil and a whole host of other inmates, medical staff, lawyers and hangers-on whose stories are interlinked throughout the book.

Shouty Doris interjects

And every one of them a crazed, violent loon!  I needed a picture dictionary to keep up with them all.  Especially the inmates.  One crazy, loud, violent woman became much like another by the end.  

Yes, after a while there were almost too many characters to keep a hold of, but I think Carey did a good job overall of keeping a handle on the multiple threads, and keeping the story from being impossible to follow.

Shouty Doris interjects

You’ve got to be joking! There were more twists than Chubby Checker’s corkscrew!  

Admittedly, by the final few chapters, the twists and unexpected outcomes really had been stretched to their limit.  I couldn’t decide by the end whether I thought the execution was masterful or over the top.

Shouty Doris interjects

Over the top.  By the end, the main character had even changed!  

Mmmm. I stilll think the author managed to err on the side of keeping control of his creation. One thing I can say for certain is that you will definitely get your money’s worth if you buy this book.  There is so much storyline to unpack that you could –

Shouty Doris interjects

-club baby seals to death with it.

Possibly try a less violent metaphor next time, eh Doris?

Shouty Doris interjects

I though it suited the violent prison atmosphere.  

Speaking of atmosphere, one thing I puzzled over was the fact that this book is set in England, written by an Englishman, yet there was nothing remotely British about the feel of the writing or characters.  In fact, I was certain throughout that this was an American book about American characters.  Certainly this isn’t necessarily something to complain about –

Shouty Doris interjects

I’d like to complain about it.

but I just found it a bit strange and disorienting.  This is probably quite appropriate because I found much of the book quite disorienting.

Shouty Doris interjects

Probably due to all the drug use.

Quiet you.

But definitely absorbing.  This was an absorbing, gripping, unexpected read that I can’t say that I enjoyed, exactly, but certainly felt compelled to finish.  I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with Carey’s work here and will now have to hunt down The Girl With All The Gifts, which has been on my TBR for ages.

Shouty Doris interjects

Give me a good ol’ Mills & Boon any day, I say.

**passes tattered book to Shouty Doris**

Shouty Doris interjects

Oooh, this is a good one!

I still can’t decide whether or not to put Fellside up as a Top Book of 2016 pick, simply because, while it was so memorable and different to anything I’ve read so far this year, I didn’t actually enjoy it all that much.  I suspect this one will make its way on to some bestseller lists, so I’m interested to see what others think of it.

If you are looking for a book that isn’t afraid to plumb the depths of human misery and provide you with plenty of distraction from your humdrum, not-being-in-prison existence, with a bit of a paranormal twist, then I would definitely recommend taking a look at Fellside.

But don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Until next time,

Bruce (and Doris)

A Wild, YA Double-Dip Review: Chronicling Dementia and Obesity…

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Today I have a diary-ish Double-Dip for you, with two very different social issues discussed from the point of view of teenagers past and present.  We received both of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s settle down with a memorable and/or healthy snack and check them out.

First up, we have The Dementia Diaries: A Novel in Cartoons by Matthew Snyman and the Social Innovations Lab, Kent.  here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Brie’s Granddad has always been a serious man, never without a newspaper and knowing the answer to everything. But now he keeps losing track of the conversation, and honestly, Brie doesn’t really know how to speak to him. At first, Fred was annoyed that Gramps had come to live with them, it meant he had to give up his room! But then he starts to enjoy watching old films with him and spending time together… although there’s the small problem of Gramps calling him Simon.

Follow the stories of Brie, Fred, and other young carers as they try to understand and cope with their grandparents’ dementia at all stages of the illness. Adapted from true stories, and supplemented with fun activities and discussion ideas, this book for children aged approximately 7-14 cuts to the truth of the experience of dementia and tackles stigma with a warm and open perspective.

Dip into it for…dementia diaries

A highly engaging and light-hearted read that sheds some light on a major health issue around the world, from the perspective of youngsters living with a relative who has dementia.  The book is structured to reflect the progression of the disease, from the early stages, through the diagnosis, and what happens when the patient can no longer be looked after in their own home.  The young people’s illustrated stories are accessible and demonstrate the range of emotions, challenges and changes that the family experiences when trying to support a family member with dementia.  Each chapter also suggests further tasks, research and discussion questions, making this a perfect resource for the classroom.

Don’t dip if…

…you are looking for an in-depth exploration of how supporting a person with dementia affects a young person psychologically.  The stories related here are intended to be a teaching tool and point of access for young readers to get a glimpse into what might be expected when caring for a family member with dementia.

Overall Dip Factor:

This is a clever method of providing young people with information on a relevant topic in an enjoyable and non-confrontational way.  The different experiences of the diarists are perfect conversation starters and allow young people who may be feeling alone in their situation to realise that many others face similar challenges and have similar emotions about the changes happening for their loved one.  More than that however, the book is simply an interesting, fun and touching read, regardless of whether or not one has experience with the illness and its affects.

Next up, we have a bit of historical narrative non-fiction with My Mad Fat Diary by Rae Earl.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s 1989 and Rae Earl is a fat, boy-mad 17-year-old girl, living in Stamford, Lincolnshire with her mum and their deaf white cat in a council house with a mint green bathroom and a refrigerator Rae can’t keep away from. She’s also just been released from a psychiatric ward. My Mad Fat Diary is the hilarious, harrowing and touching real-life diary Rae kept during that fateful year and the basis of the hit British television series of the same name now coming to HULU. Surrounded by people like her constantly dieting mum, her beautiful frenemy Bethany, her mates from the private school up the road (called “Haddock”, “Battered Sausage” and “Fig”) and the handsome, unattainable boys Rae pines after (who sometimes end up with Bethany…),My Mad Fat Diary is the story of an overweight young woman just hoping to be loved at a time when slim pop singers ruled the charts. Rae’s chronicle of her world will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever been a confused, lonely teenager clashing with her parents, sometimes overeating, hating her body, always taking herself VERY seriously, never knowing how positively brilliant she is and keeping a diary to record it all. My Mad Fat Diary – 365 days with one of the wisest and funniest girls in England.

mad fat diary

Dip into it for…

…some of the greatest, angsty, rhyming teen poetry ever seen.  There were echoes of Adrian Mole in this amusing foray back to the eighties, except Rae is obviously a lot smarter and more insightful than fictional Adrian.  Some parts – such as the name-calling from random strangers and friends alike – are quite hard to read and other parts are simply quite funny.  This being a North American edition of the book, there is also a glossary of sorts in the front, explaining all the British terms that our friends across the Pond might not be familiar with.  For me, this was the funniest part of the whole reading experience as I imagined confused Americans flicking back to the glossary to decipher Rae’s cryptic ramblings.  Adrian Mole art imitating life indeed!

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a reading experience that involves enormous changes in the diarist by the end of the tome.  One of the problems of diaries is that much of the change recorded happen little by little, and by our very habitual nature, much of the content becomes repetitive after a while.

Overall Dip Factor:

Rae is a supremely relatable narrator and her anguish and triumphs and daily struggles will be recognisable to teens of today as well as those of us who were there the first time around.  It will no doubt be quite an eye-opener for youngsters of today to note that Rae has to use the phone booth down the street because her mother won’t get a phone at home! Overall, this is an absorbing read in parts and generally a humorous jaunt into the mind of a teenager on the outer.

Until next time,

Bruce

Now Listen Carefully: Did You Take the B From My _ook?

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did you take the b

We recently received this accusatorily-titled book from Harper Collins Australia and were immediately primed to see whether the claim on the cover – that this was a book that would “drive kids crazy” – was accurate, because we all know there is nothing funner than inciting (quickly reparable) mental anguish in children.  Before we begin, this is definitely a read-aloud title and involves a bit of audience participation, so if that’s not your bag, you should probably move along.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

From the brilliant brains behind THIS IS A BALL comes a new giggle-inducing bestseller!
For the Grown-Ups:

OK. Two things you need to know. Firstly, your favourite thing in the whole world is the letter B. And secondly, you’re about to sneeze and all the Bs are going to be blown out of the book. So until you can get your favourite letter back, you’re about to sound really, really silly … And the kids will love it!

Did You Take the B from My _ook? by Beck and Matt Stanton is the epitome of interactive reading.  In order to appreciate the book, it MUST be read aloud, and requires the listeners to contribute in order for the narrator to solve the problem of the missing ‘b’s.  The illustrations are basic and sparse here and don’t really carry the story at all, but are helpful in prompting that listener participation that is so vital to the reading experience.  I can imagine that the larger the audience experiencing the book, the better the overall fun factor will be, as it’s the kind of book that benefits from more than one voice in the telling.

Admittedly, on first reading, I was skeptical that this book would actually be as funny as the cover and blurb make out. Not being the target audience, however, I decided that in order to be fair, I would have to snaffle a mini-fleshling or two and use them as guinea pigs (in the pursuit of literature-based science,  obviously).  Luckily, I had both a five and a two-and-a-half year old mini-fleshling just lying around the place ready and willing to sacrifice their sanity for the greater good of this blog.

So on I read.

And while the older mini-fleshling warmed to the book slowly and quite enjoyed the audience participation elements, the two-and-a-half-year-old wandered off in the middle in search of fruit, seemingly uninterested in the plight of the narrator and the ultimate fate of the tale. The five year old didn’t ask for the book to be read again, either, which may, or may not, be a telling factor in his level of engagement with the book.  On the other hand, he did say that he enjoyed the book because “it was tricky” (in the sense of tricksy, rather than difficult), which would indicate that the authors have hit the mark in making this unlike your average storybook.

Clearly, my experiment involves a statistically insignificant sample and no great conclusions can be drawn from it.  I still have the sense that this book didn’t quite work to the level I expected, given the enjoyment we’ve extracted from other such interactive tomes – Please Open This Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt or This Book Just Ate My  Dog by Richard Byrne, for instance.  The difference, of course, is that the two books I have just mentioned rely heavily on the interplay between words and pictures to drive the interactive nature of the story, whereas Did You Take the B from My _ook? relies more on the aural aspect.

Overall, I would have to say that while there were enjoyable elements to this book, I think it is best suited to read-alouds with a bigger audience – in the classroom or library storytime, for example – where the interactive nature can really shine and listeners can bounce off each other and the narrator.  As holidays are just about to end here in Queensland, maybe some parents should pick this one up and casually drop it to their child’s teacher, then sit back and bask in the admiration that flows from being the one to bring in “that really funny cool book”.

Thanks again to HarperCollins Australia for sending us the copy for review.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: Beloved Poison..

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I honestly didn’t think we’d get a Murderous Monday in this month.  Things were looking a bit shaky – time was running out, I’d had a crack at two separate candidates and found them lacking – but then along comes Beloved Poison by E. S. Thomson, kindly provided by Hachette Australia for review, and all of a sudden we have a dark, stench-laden, historical, medical, gender-bending murder mystery on our claws.  Brilliant!  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Ramshackle and crumbling, trapped in the past and resisting the future, St Saviour’s Infirmary awaits demolition. Within its stinking wards and cramped corridors the doctors bicker and fight. Always an outsider, and with a secret of her own to hide, apothecary Jem Flockhart observes everything, but says nothing.

Six tiny coffins are uncovered, inside each a handful of dried flowers and a bundle of mouldering rags. When Jem comes across these strange relics hidden inside the infirmary’s old chapel, her quest to understand their meaning prises open a long-forgottenpast – with fatal consequences.

In a trail that leads from the bloody world of the operating theatre and the dissecting table to the notorious squalor of Newgate and the gallows, Jem’s adversary proves to be both powerful and ruthless. As St Saviour’s destruction draws near, the dead are unearthed from their graves whilst the living are forced to make impossible choices. Murder is the price to be paid for the secrets to be kept.

beloved poison

Plot Summary:

Jem Flockhart is a young woman pretending to be a young man, working in the apothecary of (architecturally) condemned hospital St Saviour’s, under the guidance of her father and a host of unsavoury medical men.  When Will Quartermain rolls up as the man in charge of overseeing the relocation of interred residents of St Saviour’s graveyard, prior to the hospitals’ demolition, Jem is annoyed at having to share her sleeping quarters and worried that personal secrets may come to light.  While showing Will around the hospital chapel, Jem unknowingly unearths some strange, disturbing relics that will set off a chain of events that threaten nearly everyone Jem holds dear.  One murder follows another and unless Jem and Will can make some links between the past and the present, Jem may well end up accused of the crimes and facing the gallows.

The Usual Suspects:

Pretty much everyone who works at St Saviour’s hospital is a suspect in this unusual murder mystery.  The main doctors, Magorian, Catchpole and Graves, all have motives and shady pasts; the wives and daughter of two of the doctors may well have their own reasons to commit murder; and there are servants, prostitutes and street urchins who could all have played a part.  Given that this is a historical fiction with certain darkish overtones, nobody is entirely blameless of wrong-doing of one sort or another and most of the characters are hiding some sort of secret they’d prefer was kept from the public.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

This is a bit of an unusual pursuit, given that the first murder doesn’t happen until quite a way into the book.  Before that, the focus is more on figuring out the meaning behind the strange relics that Will and Jem discover.  Once the first murder occurs though, people start dropping like flies and the hunt is on in earnest.  It’s tricky to pinpoint the killer/s ahead of time though, because salient information is drip-fed throughout and relationships between characters are all important in unravelling the mystery.

Overall Rating:

poison clip artpoison clip artpoison clip artpoison clip art

Four poison bottles for the steady drip, drip, drip of an alchemist’s retort

If you love a good murder mystery format but are looking for something with a sinister twist and more secrets than you could poke a rag-covered stick at, then I definitely recommend picking up Beloved Poison.  There is so much more going on here than in your typical murder mystery that it actually took me a while to figure out that this was actually going to involve hunting for a murderer.  There’s cross-dressing, graveyard excavation, limb amputations, lady almoners, poisons and potions, degenerative diseases, executions, bizarre rituals, mental asylums, prostitutes, ghostly presences and surgery practiced without regard for cleanliness and hygiene.

If I had to boil this one down though, I’d say that it was about secrets and masks.  We find out early on that Jem is playing a gender-swapping role for reasons that are fleshed out (although not, in my opinion, entirely believable) as the story unfolds, and is assisted in this by a large facial birthmark.  Jem’s father has some secrets of his own, not least of which relating to the death of Jem’s mother in childbirth.  The doctors of the hospital are all playing their own agendas, and each have habits, mannerisms and methods of working that are decidedly unpalatable, and their wives and lovers are just as bad.

The best thing about this book is the pervading atmosphere of bleakness and unrelenting gloom that Thomson has set up.  The historical aspects are faithfully recreated and some of the medical details described in stomach-churning detail.  While the atmosphere is thick with a pervasive miasma of sinister goings-on, the book itself isn’t a depressing read.  Jem and Will, and even apprentice apothecary Gabriel and servant Mrs Speedicut, inject a certain sense of fervour and hope that provides a neat counterpoint to their unsavoury surroundings.  Even if you don’t pick this one up for the murder mystery aspect there is plenty to uncover as you peel back the mud-encrusted layers of the lives of St Saviour’s residents.

I was also happy to see that this appears to be a standalone novel.  After all the shocks and “blergh” moments in this one, I don’t think I could stomach a second foray into London’s stinky historical underbelly any time soon!

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

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check out my progress toward that challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Why I Went Back: A YA “Read it if” Review…

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read it if NEW BUTTON

Welcome to another Read-it-if review!  Today’s book will be a treat for those who enjoy a bit of David Almond-style magical realism mixed with myth and legend, or indeed for anyone who likes to know that someone is looking after the postal system properly.  Why I Went Back by James Clammer is a no-romance (hooray!), no-nonsense romp that masterfully blends ancient legend with modern first world problems (ie: not getting your mail on time). Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Aidan needs his bike to deliver all the mail his postman dad’s been hoarding since his mum was sectioned. But his bike’s just been stolen.
In the early morning, Aidan chases after the thieves, hellbent on getting it back. When he reaches the abandoned factory where they’ve stashed his bike, he has moments to grab it and escape. But he finds more than just stolen goods. There’s a mysterious prisoner chained to the floor.
This is the story of why Aidan goes back.
Recalling Alan Garner and Susan Cooper, Why I Went Back is a dark tale of magic, myth and undelivered mail.

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Read it if:

*you’ve ever had to cover for someone on the job when you are woefully unqualified (and unmotivated) to do so

*you’ve ever attempted to assist someone in something you thought would be a straightforward and simple task, only to find that it actually ends up taking over your life

*you’ve ever discovered an ancient, legendary being in an unexpected place and wondered what to do with him/her/it

* your mail could be delivered by a horde of unsightly and malodorous gnome-centaur crossbreeds for all you care, provided it gets to you in a timely and responsible fashion 

Comparisons to David Almond’s Skellig will be obvious after reading this book, given the whole “troubled boy discovers ancient being in an abandoned warehouse” plotline, but there is plenty to enjoy about Why I Went Back on its own merits.  For a start, while the plots might be similar in some ways, Clammer’s narrative is a lot edgier, featuring a young lad who isn’t afraid to get into a bit of trouble, provided it gets him where he needs to go.  Aidan is an immediately likeable character, in that while he does indulge in some dodgy behaviour to achieve certain ends, he also has insight into why he’s doing what he’s doing and takes on the responsiblity to make changes in his own life.

The book swings a bit between totally mundane problems, such as Aidan coping with a mother in a psychiatric ward and a father who has checked out of his own life, and problems of a more mystical variety, such as what to do with the strange old man Aidan discovers being held prisoner in a warehouse by a group of local thugs.  I found this to be quite a satisfying blend of story threads that kept the narrative moving and allowed Aidan’s story, and his friendship with Daniel, to be revealed in layers.

The ending neatly ties up the loose ends and provides a bit of hope for the future, using a juxtaposition of ancient magic and good old fashioned hard work.  I’d recommend this one for readers of YA looking for an edgy, sometimes dark, sometimes funny story with a believable male protagonist and a touch of the old magic to shake things up.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Magrit: An MG Good, Sad and Quirky Review…

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Today’s review nearly ended up being a “Great Expectations…” review because my level of expectation for today’s book was impossibly high, but I have decided to unleash my psyche on you instead.  Magrit by Lee Battersby (author of such bizarre adult fiction favourites of the shelf as The Corpse-Rat King and The Marching Dead) is a middle grade, beautifully presented foray into a graveyard full of surprises.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Magrit lives in an abandoned cemetery with her friend and advisor, Master Puppet, whom she built from bones and bits of graveyard junk. One night as Magrit and Master Puppet sit atop of their crumbling chapel, a passing stork drops a baby into the graveyard. Defying Master Puppet’s demands that the baby be disposed of, and taking no heed of his dire warnings, Magrit decides to raise the baby herself. She gives him a name: Bugrat. Magrit loves Bugrat like a brother But Master Puppet know all too well what will happen when Bugrat grows up – that the truth about them all will be revealed.

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The Good:image

If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and have wished that there existed a book very like it, but suited to a younger audience, Lee Battersby has fulfilled that wish in Magrit.  The book is set in a beautifully atmospheric cemetery, wherein the inhabitants lie forgotten and a self-contained, private sanctuary has been chiseled out of the silence.  Magrit is an easy character to follow along with; a carefree nearly-ten year old, whose imagination is fed to bursting by her mouldering home and her questions answered by the all-seeing Master Puppet.  Master Puppet is a great, original character, I must say – a skeleton patched together from various discarded bones and lashed to the cross atop the cemetery’s chapel, dispensing wisdom and criticism in a voice that is practically audible while you read.  The plot is easy to follow for young readers, and while adult readers (and indeed, canny youngsters) may pick up on which way the wind is blowing reasonably early in the story, the ending is unexpected and satisfactorily ambiguous.

The Sad image

If you have not read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, then this criticism will pass you by and not affect your reading of Magrit at all.  If this is the case for you, I am truly happy that you have yet to discover the magic of both of these wonderful books.  The only problem I had with this story is that it felt far too much like The Graveyard Book.  So much so, in fact, that I felt like Bod and Magrit could have easily lived in Bod’s graveyard at the same time, with Magrit’s corner cordoned off in some way so that the two never got around to meeting.  The reason this was a problem is that because I read The Graveyard Book years ago on its original release (our dust-jacketed, hardbacked edition has pride of place on our shelf, with only slight paper-specklage after eight years), and have since re-read it multiple times, Bod, Silas and the gang have taken up residence in my brain as the superior graveyard-dwelling crew.  Again though, if you haven’t read The Graveyard Book, you should find Magrit and Master Puppet entirely original and thoroughly unique.

I would also have loved to have seen a bit of the quirky, bizarre humour that Battersby inserts into his adult fiction works make its way into Magrit’s story.

The Quirkyimage

The presentation, both inside and out, of this first edition of Magrit is something else entirely.  For a start, the textured hardback cover fits neatly in your hand and the raw edges of the pages are tinged an inviting pale purple.  The beautiful papercut illustration on the front sets the tone for the gorgeous reading experience awaiting you.  The pages inside are bordered in similar papercut designs and Master Puppet’s dialogue is always printed in a spectacularly eye-popping font, which is both a handy visual cue for younger readers and serves to enhance that unique character voice that I mentioned earlier.  Overall, there has been a great deal of consideration put into the visual presentation of this book and it greatly enhances the reading experience.  I can just imagine the coveting that will go on amongst mini-fleshlings when this one hits the school library shelves!

I also loved that Battersby references Catharine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and its Dead in his acknowledgements.  This is a reasonably large and dense non-fiction tome that I checked out of the library years ago, before I started blogging, as part of my attempt to read all the death-related things.  I just like the idea that other people have read a reasonably obscure book that I randomly checked out of the library many years ago.

Overall, I am so glad I pre-ordered this one and didn’t wait around on the off-chance that I would get the opportunity to get a free review copy.  This is definitely a book that you won’t regret purchasing and displaying in a prominent place on your shelf to amaze your friends and confuse and dismay your enemies.

Until next time,

Bruce (and his psyche)

 

 

 

Introducing Scribble, I Am Doodle Cat and Author Kat Patrick (+ a giveaway!)

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I am so pleased to be helping to introduce a brand new kids’ publishing imprint today – Scribe’s new addition, Scribble!  It’s always exciting to get a snifter of brand new books on the horizon and today I’ve got a little ripper for you…as well as an interview with the author and a chance for TWO lucky readers to win a copy of I am Doodle Cat!  But more of that later. Let’s meet Doodle Cat! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

I Am Doodle Cat and I am one very proud drawing. I’m red like a really ripe tomato. Sometimes I find it hard to choose between dancing and clawing the rug so I just do both at the same time. I make long lists of the things I love because it’s important to remember what makes you happy. I’ll help you spot the magic in silliness and the greatness in pretty much everything. Also, my best friend is a pangolin. Let’s be pals.

From the bright, energetic endpapers to the cheeky catalogue of loves, Doodle Cat is one book that is certainly going to appeal to mini-fleshlings.  Although there is no traditional plot here, Doodle Cat’s list of things that he loves were varied and unexpected enough to provoke giggles (the cat method of bathing), raised eyebrows (maths) and more than one slightly confused facial expression (farts and lentils) from the oldest mini-fleshling in the house.  Doodle Cat is a bit of a prankster I suspect, and his unconventional ways are ably illustrated by Lauren Marriott, who manages to put an enormous amount of character into even the most desultory of Doodle Cat’s bottom-wiggling dances.

The book also features short sections of commentary from Doodle Cat himself at the end of his litany of loves, which are quite lyrical and inspiring in their way.  I suspect that once kids get a glimpse of Doodle Cat, he will remain in their memories for quite some time. Since we first read the book, the older mini-fleshling has developed some basic narrative drives of his own, piloting first Doodle Dog (a dog who loves to eat green things, including green ants) and Doodle Fly (a work in progress).  But I get the sense that Doodle Cat probably loves being a muse, too.

Did I mention that I Am Doodle Cat has already won the Scholastic New Zealand Award for Best Designed Children’s Book?  Well it has!

Thanks to Scribble, I am able to offer TWO readers the chance to win a copy of I Am Doodle Cat!  The giveaway is open internationally and to enter, all you need to do is click on the Rafflecopter link here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Ts & Cs are in the Rafflecopter form. Good luck!

I know you’re itching to find out more about the creative genius behind Doodle Cat, so read on to find out Kat Patrick’s answers to some tough questions from the Shelf!

Doodle cat, with his catalogue of loves, seems the antithesis of world-famous Grumpy Cat.  Do you think Doodle Cat’s positive outlook will inspire Grumpy Cat (and cats generally) to be less grumpy?

Sadly, no. The magical thing about cats is that they only do exactly what they want to do. We’ll drop Grumpy an email, though. Will let you know how it goes.

Your name is Kat and your main character is a cat. Coincidence or fate?!

Narcissism! Kidding, no. Fate.

How did you first meet Doodle Cat?

As he was zooming past on a paper aeroplane.

What was the first thing you did when you found out you’d won an award for Doodle Cat? Now that he’s had a taste of success, does Doodle Cat count book awards amongst his loves?

Messsaged Lauren in disbelief. I don’t think we’ll ever fully comprehend that that our little kind-hearted jerk is becoming so famous. Hope it doesn’t go to his head, but also: so what if it does. He’d probably just do few zooms around the house before going back to his ice cream.

What can we expect next for Doodle Cat?

Bit of trouble, but mostly fun.

Given our loveable natures and aesthetically pleasing visage, would you ever consider writing a book featuring Gargoyles?

Yes! Maybe she could play the bass guitar in Doodle Cat’s band.

You heard it here first! Perhaps Doodle Gargoyle is in the works!

Thanks again to Scribble for letting us share in the launch of this exciting new venture.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

MARTians: A Five Things I’ve Learned Review…(and a Top Book of 2016 Pick!)

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Today I’m delving back into YA dystopian, a genre I have avoided in recent times due to its tendency to bring on feelings of despondency and gloom.  It was an overproliferation of YA dystopian that led to my creation of the Utopirama! feature way back when.  But times change and the use of a dystopian, consumer-driven setting in MARTians by Blythe Woolston is so subtle and original that I couldn’t help but give it the thumbs up.  We received a copy of MARTians from Walker Books Australia for review – thanks! – and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Last girl Zoë Zindleman, numerical ID 009-99-9999, has just been graduated. Early. Her options: wait for her home to be foreclosed and stripped of anything valuable now that AnnaMom has moved away, or move to the Warren, an abandoned strip-mall-turned-refuge for other left-behinds—a safe place, and close to AllMART, Zoë’s new employer, where “your smile is AllMART’s welcome mat.” Zoë may be the last girl, but her name means “life,” and Zoë isn’t ready to disappear into the AllMART abyss. Zoë wants to live.

MARTians is set in a world of exurban decay studded with big-box stores, where its inhabitants are numbed by shopping and the six o’clock “news.” MARTians may be the future, but it is frighteningly familiar.

MARTians

And here are Five Things I’ve Learned from MARTians by Blythe Woolcroft:

  1. Your smile is the ALLMart Welcome Mat.
  2. Your employment, promotion prospects, level of debt, ability to afford housing and general well-being all depend on your ability to keep customers shopping, so keep on smiling, ALLMart employee! *clapclapclap*
  3. Customer confusion results in a lack of consumer confidence. Know. Your. Product (and keep smiling!).
  4. Make sure you direct the customer through at least two different departments on their way to the checkout.
  5. Don’t quibble about your name-badge.  Everyone’s an individual at ALLMart

First up, I should point out that although I really enjoyed this book, I’m afraid it will be overlooked or seen as lacking by other YA readers due to a few key issues.  For a start, it was both short and a standalone.  These were both enormous positives from my point of view, but I know how YA readers love their series.

Secondly, there was no romance at all, despite featuring two protagonists of the same age and opposite sex stuck in an inescapable and rather bleak situation.  “HOORAY!” I cried, when I got to the end without being alternately bored and irritated by pace-slowing, bland, repetitive teen romance.  Again, I thought this was an enormous plus and offer kudos to the author for not getting sucked into the black-hole-like gravitational pull of peer pressure to put romance in every single YA book.

Finally, there were plenty of aspects of the story that COULD have been fleshed out far more deeply – the character of “Belly” and her mysterious fate, the whereabouts of Zoe’s mother, what happened to Dolly Lamb and 5er’s family – but to do so would have made this a super-long book and resulted, I think, in a shifting of the subtly disturbing and pervasive atmosphere of dystopia.

You see, I think the great strength of this book is that the dystopian aspect isn’t all in your face.  There isn’t a zompocalypse or some major environmental disaster that throws people together in a minute-t0-minute battle for survival.  Instead, the society described here is so close to our current consumerist society to be deeply disturbing on a psychological level, but just different enough to assure the reader that this is all fiction.   In Zoe’s world, you are either a consumer or a worker and there really isn’t much scope to be both successfully.  Individuals are taken straight from school graduation to prison, if deemed not capable enough to succeed as a worker.  Major retailers control the pay packets and lives of their workers.  And ordinary families disband, leaving whole suburbs of houses empty, in order to chase work and security, while the dwellings left behind are stripped of useful materials by those struggling to survive.

There is quite a bit of dark humour throughout the book – I only noticed the cheeky nod to literary classic The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at the end! – and Zoe is a relatable, if naive, narrator. Timmer provides the lightness that is needed to avoid the whole thing descending into a depressive state and overall, I was thoroughly impressed with the way the author handled the story within such a restrained word count.

While this certainly isn’t going to be a blockbusting, seat-of-your-pants, thrillride of a read for many people, I am giving it my Top Book of 2016 tick of approval because it really is a standout in a YA market that has a tendency towards churning out books that aren’t prepared to take a risk in generating original characters or plots.

You can see my other Top Book of 2016 (so far!) picks by clicking this attractive button:

Bruce's Pick

Until next time,

Bruce