Dragonfly Song: A YA, Bronze Age Epic…

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Dragonfly Song (Wendy Orr) Published by Allen & Unwin 22nd June 2016 RRP: $16.99

 

It’s not very often that one can say they’re reading a book aimed at young adults and set in the Bronze Age, but today I have just that sort of treat for  you.  Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr, celebrated author of Nim’s Island among other books, features family tragedy, selective mutism, wise women, dancing with bulls, snake charming and all sorts of ancient historical goodness.

We gratefully received a copy of this unusual and absorbing tale from Allen & Unwin and are pleased to be participating in the blog tour for this title – Wendy herself will be guest posting at the shelf tomorrow, so stay tuned!  In the meantime, here’s the blurb from Allen & Unwin:

There are two ways of looking at Aissa’s story. She’s the miracle girl who escaped the raiders. Or she’s the cursed child who called the Bull King’s ship to the island.

The firstborn daughter of a priestess is cast out as a baby, and after raiders kill her adopted family, she is abandoned at the gates of the Great Hall, anonymous and mute. Called No-Name, the cursed child, she is raised a slave, and not until she is twelve does she learn her name is Aissa: the dragonfly.

Now every year the Bull King takes a tribute from the island: two thirteen-year-old children to brave the bloody bull dances in his royal court. None have ever returned – but for Aissa it is the only escape.

Aissa is resilient, resourceful, and fast – but to survive the bull ring, she will have to learn the mystery of her true nature.

One of the first things you notice about the physical print copy of this book is its size – at first glance, it looks like a right hefty bit of work.  Don’t be scared off by this however, because a good chunk of the story is told in verse.   When raiders attack her family home and her mother tells Aissa to keep quiet until she returns, a very young Aissa seems to take this instruction quite literally, resulting in her selective mutism.  The verse sections of the novel deftly give poetic voice to Aissa’s inner feelings and experiences, in a way that might, in a more typically formatted novel, happen through dialogue or introspection.

The book is split into two parts.  The first, much longer, section details Aissa’s upbringing as the “cursed child” of her island and the ways in which she tries to carve out a life for herself in an openly hostile environment.  We learn here about some special talents that Aissa possesses, but doesn’t fully understand or recognise, and as readers, we are also privy to information about Aissa’s family heritage of which she herself is unaware.

The second part of the book takes place on the Bull King’s island and moves much more quickly than the first section.  This part of the book is quite action packed compared to the story set on Aissa’s home island and deals with Aissa finding her true calling and tying up loose ends regarding her identity.

There is plenty to get one’s teeth into here for fans of historical fiction who are looking for something set in a past a bit more distant than Victorian times.  The culture, rituals and daily lives of the people of this time and place are really brought to life through Orr’s writing and the addition of verse certainly adds in building the atmosphere.  Given that it’s the school holidays here in Australia, I’d have to recommend Dragonfly Song as the perfect way to escape on an adventure if you aren’t lucky enough to be travelling somewhere exotic during the break.

Don’t forget, tomorrow Wendy Orr will be taking over the blog to discuss what it feels like to have your book turned into a film!  Same bat time, same bat channel folks!

Until next time,

Bruce

Moose on the Loose: A Double-Dip Review…

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If the sight of a pair of enormous antlers sets your heart a-flutter, you are in for a treat today because we have TWO moose-themed, illustrated children’s books for your perusal.  We received both of these gems from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Grab yourself a hearty snack and let’s strike out into the wilderness!

First up, we have Too Many Moose by Lisa Bakos, a cautionary tale about the perils of online shopping.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Martha gets an unusual pet, she’s delighted by all of the fun things they do together. If one moose is this marvelous, then more moose must be even better! Pretty soon, Martha has more moose than she can handle in this playful pet story.

Dip into it for…

too many moose

…more moose than you can handle and an endearing, and extremely funny, animal romp.  This book is so delightful I could barely handle all the excited frollicking that goes on throughout.  Martha, heartened by the success of ordering one moose from a catalogue, falls into that trap for young players at online shopping and ends up with an unwieldy amount of moose.  She eventually finds a solution that suits everybody and all is well, but in the meantime, things get a little hairy around Martha’s house.  I am always impressed with illustrators who can make such hilarious facial expressions on animal characters, and Martha is a wonderfully independent little soul and, in the end, a responsible pet owner.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like moose.  Or online shopping.  That is all.

Overall Dip Factor:

I absolutely loved this tale.  The rhyme and rhythm is spot on for reading aloud and little ones will appreciate the repeated refrains throughout.  The illustrations are just perfect and the scenes of frivolity (until things go bad, of course) make one wish one had a pet moose of one’s own!  I predict that this will be high on the request list of many a bedtime reading rotation.  Highly recommended.

Next up we have a sneaky TOP BOOK OF 2016 pick!

Bruce's Pick

It’s so good to see a cracking graphic novel, because we’ve had a few misses with the genre so far this year.  Here’s the blurb of Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy by Doug Savage, from Goodreads:

The forest is full of danger . . .  but help is here. Meet Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy, improbable pals who use their powers—laser vision and an unrelenting sense of optimism—to fight the forces of evil. Join the dynamic duo as they battle aliens, a mutant fish-bear, a cyborg porcupine, and a mechanical squirrel, learning along the way that looking on the bright side might be just as powerful as shooting a laser.

laser moose

Dip into it for…

…a forest full of danger, an optimistic rabbit and one very vigilant moose.  Never has such a friendship between opposite personalities existed in a children’s graphic novel than that between Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy.  While Rabbit Boy is just happy exploring the forest and meeting animal people, Laser Moose is constantly on the lookout for danger…and his arch-nemesis Cyborgupine (a cyborg porcupine, in case you couldn’t figure that one out).  In four charming and hilarious stories, our intrepid heroes save the forest and learn a thing or two about themselves along the way.  And then there’s the Aquabear.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of alternating slapstick and subtle humour in your graphic novel reading.  The stories roll from Laser Moose causing unintentional carnage when wielding his eye lasers, to perfectly timed dry one-liners and back with nary a by-your-leave.  The end frame of the Aquabear story is a fantastic example of this (and I’m not going to spoil it for you, but I will say that it did result in me engaging in a thigh-slapping guffaw).  In some senses it’s pretty childish humour, but if an adult gargoyle can have a good old out-loud-chuckle at these animal antics, it’s got to be pretty sophisticated on some level too.

Overall Dip Factor:

I love this combination of characters – Laser Moose’s tightly wound vigilance is perfectly balanced by the forgiving and personable nature of Rabbit Boy.  The stories are short, so will appeal to young readers who need to take breaks while reading.  The dialogue is such that it will be appreciated by kids and adults alike. As with  most graphic novels, this was way too short for my liking and I’m itching to get my claws on the next in the series (it is going to be a series, right?!).  In the meantime I will have to settle for buying a copy as a “gift” for the eldest mini-fleshling.

A worthy Top Book of 2016 pick indeed, and I thoroughly recommend that you too pick up a copy under the guise of giving it to a young reader of your acquaintance.

I hope you’ve found a moose-y tale to inspire the imagination here!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s MG Reading Round-Up: The “Quite Frightening…ly Good” Edition…

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Welcome, welcome, welcome to another Reading Round-Up (do you feel welcome?)!  Today we are going to encircle a collection of titles for the middle grade age group that are high on humour and jolly good fun.  And zombies and deadly necklaces and mummies and other slightly frightening stuff.  But I’m sure you’re up for the challenge, a brave thing like you!  Saddled up?  Let’s crack on!

Firalphabet soup challenge 2016st up we have Zombified: Outbreak by C.M. Grey, being the third book in the humorous Zombified series.  We gratefully received a copy from Harper Collins Australia for review and wish to offer them our ongoing warm feelings because they provided us with a book to fulfill the “Z” criteria of our Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge!  What a weight off our collective minds!

Zombified: Outbreak (C.M. Grey)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

zombified

Ben, twelve-year-old half-zombie, has his powers under control and life seems to be carrying on as normal, until his older brother, Michael, disappears, leaving nothing but his game machine and a cloud of glitter in his wake. When Ben and Sophie start to investigate, little do they realise that they are about to uncover some secrets that will blow their understanding of zombie issues right out of the water!

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a fun, adventure-filled zombie romp speckled with illustrations throughout and featuring some larger-than-life (or undeath) characters.  I have been keeping an eye on this series as books have been published but this is the first I’ve managed to pick up.  The back story is briefly explained and I found that I didn’t have any trouble picking up the thread of the story or the characters.  Ben is a super-likable young lad who just seems to want to get on with his half-life and keep outsiders’ knowledge of his “condition” to a minimum.  Sophie is a stalwart friend and I really enjoyed the loyalty that they show each other, even in situations where it may be in the best interests of each to cut ties with the other.  It’s refreshing to see a boy-girl friendship taking centre stage in an age bracket that is often plagued by “boy book” and “girl book” characterisation.  While this was a pretty amusing adventure, with some classic reveals, I think  it is one that will be best enjoyed by the target market, rather than adult readers of middle grade.  Having said that, I think I will be taking some time to seek out the first book in the series to see how Ben ended up as a half-zombie because he’s certainly personable (zombie-able?) enough to make me want to go back for another bite.

Brand it with:

Aaargh! Half Zombies!; Suspicious school staff; Family Secrets

Next up we have Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp, which we received with some trepidation from Bloomsbury Australia for review.  If you have chanced upon our review of the first in the series, Anyone But Ivy Pocket, you will understand from whence our trepidation sprang (sprung? springed?).

Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket (Caleb Krisp)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

somebody stop ivy pocket

Ivy Pocket is working for a pair of unsightly undertakers, reading poems for the about-to-be-deceased to ease them on their way. When Ivy’s necklace shows her images of Rebecca (the supposedly dead), Ivy must try to puzzle out a way into a whole new world and stage a rescue.

Muster up the motivation because…

…it might surprise you to hear, given our rather frosty reception of the series-opener, that I found this book considerably more tolerable than the first.  I will even admit to letting out a few guffaws at Krisp’s pointy, pointy dialogue.  While the inherently irritating Ivy is still up to all her old tricks, they didn’t seem quite so insufferable this time around.  I suspect that the story, which involves some very shady funeral directors, was closer to my preferred narrative in middle grade books.  Having said that, I still couldn’t say that I really enjoyed the book.  Ivy’s inability to take obvious hints with regards to major plot twists was still too infuriating to be borne.  There is something about the character of Ivy that is a bit like Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean.  Watching that television show was like watching a car crash in slow motion: everyone but the protagonist could see the outcome, but were powerless to stop it and forced to endure every agonizingly awful second of it.  Except I got many more laughs out of Mr Bean than I have from Ivy.  I suspect that Ivy and I are just too different to be friends.  Still, the lass is getting plenty of love from other quarters so don’t let my curmudgeonly attitude put you off.

Brand it with:

Social ineptitude; Deadly bling; Underhanded Undertakers

Finally, we have a super-engaging encyclopaedia of the damned, of a sort.  We received a copy of Frightlopedia: An Encyclopedia of Everything Scary, Creepy and Spine-Chilling, from Arachnids to Zombies by Julie Winterbottom and Rachel Bozek from the publisher via Netgalley.

Frightlopedia (Julie Winterbottom & Rachel Bozek)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

frightlopedia

Frightlopedia is an easy-to-read collection of a diverse range of scary stuff. From vampires and zombies to bizarre burial practices and creepy insects, Frightlopedia has you covered if you are in the mood for learning about things that go bump (or slither or boo) in the night.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is actually a really well put-together, informative and fun non fiction text.  Far from being a “kid’s book”, I found myself drawn in to some of the interesting entries, such the monastery whose crypt contains the perfect conditions to naturally mummify corpses so tourists can wander through and have a look.  There are cryptids, bizarre buildings, deathly illnesses and nasty humans to explore and learn about and it’s all set out in an enticing format. Entries are organised alphabetically and there are plenty of absorbingly creepy topics to get one’s teeth into.  Each topic is addressed in one to two pages, accompanied by illustrations or photographs, and some topics even include an activity for kids to complete so that the frights keep on coming.  I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this book and would highly recommend it to the  little creepy kid  fan of frightful happenings of your acquaintance.  It would make a fantastic gift book or the perfect tool to quieten kids down in the classroom!

Brand it with:

Boo-tiful Books; Learning Made Creepy; Faces and Places (you don’t want to meet)

I hope you’ve found something in this lot of frighteningly good middle grade titles and have duly lassoed at least one to drag home to your reading pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiction in 50 June Challenge!

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Welcome to Fiction in 50 for June, where stalwart writers battle with words to wrangle a coherent story in fewer than 51 words – or just slap something together at the last minute!  For more information on how to play and for future prompts, just click on the attractive button at the top of this post.

Our prompt for this month is…

only certainty

I have titled my entry…

Words to Live By

“This too shall pass.”

Bollocks!  His therapist had no idea. You’re born, you get jilted, you die.  That’s how it was for people like him. 

He snorted at the exhortation to “be thankful each moment” as the lorry screeched through the red light toward his car.

Ironically, he died laughing.


I can’t wait to see what everyone else has come up with!  Our prompt for next month is…..to be announced because I haven’t got around to making them up yet.  Sorry about that.  I’ll get onto it as soon as possible, so check back here within the next few days.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Fi50 Reminder and TBR Friday!

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It’s that time of the month again – Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday!  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

only certainty

See you there!

TBR Friday

And now it’s time for TBR Friday!  Today’s book is The Art of Purring by David Michie; the sequel to The Dalai Lama’s Cat which I reviewed on the blog a couple of years back.  I think I borrowed the first book from the library and enjoyed it so much that I immediately purchased both it and its sequel…and then, of course, left the second book languishing on my shelf until…well, now.  Let’s kick off with the blurb from Goodreads:

What makes you purr? Of all the questions in the world, this is the most important. It is also the great leveler. Because no matter whether you are a playful kitten or a sedentary senior, a scrawny alley Tom or a sleek-coated uptown girl, whatever your circumstances, you just want to be happy. Not the kind of happy that comes and goes like a can of flaked tuna but an enduring happiness. The deep-down happiness that makes you purr from the heart.     

Before leaving for a teaching tour to America, the Dalai Lama poses a challenge to his beloved feline, HHC (His Holiness’s Cat): to discover the true cause of happiness. Little does she know what adventures this task will bring!     A hair-raising chase through the streets of McLeod Ganj leads to an unexpected revelation about the perils of self-obsession. An encounter with the mystical Yogi Tarchen inspires a breakthrough discovery about her past—one with dramatic implications for us all. And overheard conversations between ivy-league psychologists, high-ranking lamas, and famous writers who congregate at the Himalaya Book Café help her explore the convergence between science and Buddhism on the vital subject of happiness.     Sparkling with wisdom, warmth, and a touch of mischief, The Dalai Lama’s Cat and the Art of Purringis a charming reminder of why HHC is becoming one of the most-loved cats around the world.So what is the true cause of purring? The Dalai Lama whispers this secret on his return—only for the ears of HHC and those with whom she has a karmic connection . . . that, dear reader, means you!

the art of purring

Ten Second Synopsis:

The Dalai Lama is leaving on a world tour and Rinpoche is left to her own devices.  While gadding about with locals, she discovers nuggets of wisdom to pass on to the reader.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Since November 4, 2013 – so nearly three years!

Acquired:

Purchased from the Book Depository

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

I knew it would be a gentle sort of a read and more of the same as appeared in the first book so just kept overlooking it in favour of more exciting fare.

Best Bits:

  • The writing is unhurried and episodic, which means it is absolutely perfect for when you want a book that you can dip into before bed, a chapter at a time.
  • Nothing really bad happens, so it isn’t going to give you indigestion or have you up all night worrying about it
  • It is a gentle sort of a book with no preachiness or guilt-inducing exhortations to make your life better.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • I wouldn’t recommend reading it if you haven’t first read The Dalai Lama’s Cat.  You could probably enjoy it without having first read the previous book, but the first book really does have a lot more charm and character than this one.  I feel like this one reads a bit like a refresher course in being the Dalai Lama’s cat.
  • The human characters in this one aren’t as characterful as in the first book – the individual learning curves not as steep and the outcomes not as drastically happiness-inducing

On reflection, was this worth buying?

To be honest I could probably have just borrowed this one from the library.  Annoyingly, in a state of ridiculous generosity, I gave away my copy of The Dalai Lama’s Cat, and now that I have the lesser of the two books with me I wish I hadn’t.  Ah, impermanence!

Where to now for this tome?

I will probably pass it on to someone who will enjoy it.

This is another chink off the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block.

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

Forgetting Foster: A Child’s-Eye View of Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease…

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Today’s offering – Forgetting Foster by Aussie author Dianne Touchell – is a moving look at Alzheimer’s disease and its devastating effects on the family, told from the point of view of Foster, a seven-year-old only child.  Having read Touchell’s debut novel, Creepy and Maud, a number of years back, we knew that we would be in for something special here.  We received a copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Foster suddenly recognised the feeling that rolled over him and made him feel sick. It was this: Dad was going away somewhere all on his own. And Foster was already missing him.

Foster Sumner is seven years old. He likes toy soldiers, tadpole hunting, going to school and the beach. Best of all, he likes listening to his dad’s stories.

But then Foster’s dad starts forgetting things. No one is too worried at first. Foster and Dad giggle about it. But the forgetting gets worse. And suddenly no one is laughing anymore.

A heartbreaking story about what it means to forget and to be forgotten.

Forgetting Foster | REVISED FINAL COVER x 2 (18 April 2016)

Forgetting Foster (Dianne Touchell) Published by Allen & Unwin, 22 June 2016. RRP: 19.99

Given that I have a special interest in books featuring characters suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, I can confidently say that this is an excellent addition to the fictional literature on the topic.  Forgetting Foster is made more memorable (pardon the pun!) due to the fact that this is a title aimed at a YA target audience (although I’m not convinced this is a necessary label) and told from the point of view of a child.  It reminded me most strongly of What Milo Saw by Virginia Macgregor, although far less gimmicky in tone and much the better for it.

I loved Touchell’s narrative style; she has a certain ability to evoke crystal clear imagery through writing that is almost poetic at times.  It felt very similar to Glenda Millard’s style of prose, and that is high praise, given that regular readers of this blog will know that we think Glenda Millard is a genius.  If you are familiar with Millard’s Kingdom of Silk series, simply extrapolate that kind of deft and unshrinking confrontation of difficult issues onto a story written for a more mature audience and you’ll have a good idea of the approach Touchell  has taken in addressing the confusion, grief and overwhelming worry of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

The use of a child character to address an adult issue is usually a sure-fire way to show a well-worn issue in a new light and that is certainly the case here.  Foster is sharp as a tack when it comes to the realisation that life as he knew it is slipping away, but the social nuances of the adults’ behaviour go over his head.  Many of the self-defeating actions of Foster’s mother are brought into sharp focus when viewed through Foster’s lens and I found it harder to sympathise with her as the book went on, despite the fact that she is obviously under enormous stress and dealing with her own issues of grief and the emotional and mental, if not phsycial, loss of a husband at such an early stage in life.  I found Foster’s aunty to be a breath of fresh air through the whole story, maintaining, as she does, an unflinching sense of optimism.  This optimism is clearly feigned at times, and even though Foster’s mother doesn’t appreciate it, it worked neatly to stop the reader from being sucked into the pit of despair along with Foster’s mother.

This is another one of those “YA” books that will easily cross age borders and be appreciated as clever and touching adult fiction.  I certainly never got any sense that this was specifically written for a young audience and Foster as a character only confirmed this for me.  He is seven, for a start – far too young a narrator for a typical YA tale – and only a tiny part of the story is given over to his life.  He doesn’t seem to have any close friends or engage in any hobbies that might be expected of a seven year old.  For this reason, I suspect that Foster is best described as a gentle conduit into a world of cataclysmic change – a way to allow the reader to experience the emotions that go along with losing a family member while being shielded from the worst of it.

I did feel that I wanted something more from the book once it was finished.  I’m not sure if this was because I was expecting more to be made of the comparative youth of the character suffering from Alzheimer’s disease – Foster’s father – or simply because I have read a number of books already – both fiction and nonfiction – on the topic, but I wanted a bit of a kick in the tale that I didn’t quite receive.  It’s possible that because it was Foster’s dad, not his grandfather, that was quickly moving downhill, I wanted the experience of that loss to feel more significant and raw and I didn’t quite get that from Foster’s narration.  This may be where the book feels closest to the YA category, as those deeper and more troubling experiences related to grieving the total loss of someone who is still alive, are left alone.

Forgetting Foster is certainly worth a read if you are looking for a contemporary novel that deals with grief, loss and confusion in an extremely accessible way – not to mention if you are looking for a cracking OZ YA title.  Again, I wouldn’t be put off by the fact that this is a “YA” novel, because it reads magnificently as adult fiction.  For grown-up readers looking for nonfiction reads on the same topic, allow me to suggest Green Vanilla Tea by Marie Williams (another brilliant Aussie tale).

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

The Hatching: A Great Expectations Review…

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The cover of today’s book carries a warning that it is “the most terrifying thriller you’ll read this year”, which is a pretty big call in my opinion.  Nevertheless, I was prepared to take The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone at face value and had major expectations for the scariness of the reading journey on which I was about to embark.  With a nod of thanks to Hachette Australia for providing the shelf with a copy of the book, we immediately turned to Goodreads to find out more about the story:

A local guide is leading wealthy tourists through a forest in Peru when a strange, black, skittering mass engulfs him and most of the party. FBI Agent Mike Rich is on a routine stakeout in Minneapolis when he’s suddenly called by the director himself to investigate a mysterious plane crash. A scientist studying earthquakes in India registers an unprecedented pattern in local seismic readings. The US president, her defence and national security advisers and her chief of staff are dumped into crisis mode when China “accidentally” drops a nuclear bomb on a desolate region of its own country. As such unsettling occurrences mount, the president’s old friend (and her chief of staff’s ex-wife), spider expert Melanie Guyer, receives a box at her lab at American University that contains an ancient egg unearthed at a South American dig.

So begins The Hatching, the hair-raising saga of a single week in which an ancient, frighteningly predatory species of spider re-emerges in force. When the unusual egg in Melanie Guyer’s lab begins to vibrate and crack, she finds herself at the epicentre of this apocalyptic natural disaster. Working closely with her ex-husband and his very powerful boss, she has to find some way to stem the brutal tide of man-eating arachnids.

the hatching

What I Expected:

*the most terrifying thriller I would read this year

*an overwhelming sense of creepiness exuding from the sounds, sights and … more sounds…of thousands of spiders and their equally numerous and leggy offspring, intent on devouring humanity

*an almost unbearable level of suspense and a plot that rolled along at breakneck speed

What I Got:

*spiders that didn’t seem nearly as scary as those we currently have living in our houses here in Australia

*a ridiculous level of detail regarding characters’ sex lives and relationships

*a remarkably slow story, told from multiple viewpoints in a narrative style that could only be described as “mostly filler” and a reasonably predictable ending

So you may have noticed from the above that I wasn’t particularly riveted by The Hatching.  Far from being the most terrifying thriller I have read this year, it didn’t even make it into the “most terrifying thriller I’ve read this WEEK” spot, which was taken by YA post-apocalyptic, plague-fest, Remade.  All the elements were there for a really monstrous story – Killer spiders! Global panic! Governments turning on their own citizens! – but the execution was ham-fisted and unimaginative and I couldn’t get over the feeling that this type of story has been done numerous times before and that this offering didn’t add much to the killer animal/insect genre of horror.

One of the biggest problems I had with the book was the amount of unnecessary detail throughout.  The story is told from multiple alternating viewpoints – a style I normally enjoy – but we are subjected to enormous amounts of back story, mostly related to the sex lives of the characters, bizarrely, which seemed to have little or no relevance to the matter at hand – namely, escaping from ravenous spiders.  There is a real undercurrent of unnecessary smut going on in this book and I just couldn’t figure out why the editor let it all go through.  Almost every single character is engaging in some sort of sexual escapade – the professor sleeping with her student, the tour guide hoping to cheat on his girlfriend (who is cheating on him) with one of the supermodel concubines of a big fat rich man using his services….there’s even a couple called…wait for it…Fanny and Dick.

I kid you not.

I find it hard to believe that NO ONE else noted all these weirdly misplaced sexy goings-on during the editing of this book.  I’m no prude (well, I’m a bit of a prude to be honest), but I could not for the life of me figure out why all this relationship stuff was included in what was supposed to be a thriller, because it did nothing for me but slow the pace and distract away from the main premise – killer spiders!

The only characters seemingly not embroiled in some kind of sexual fiasco is a group of doomsday preppers, but once again, their sections of the story really didn’t add much to the whole shebang, given the fact that they are safely holed up in their doomsday bunkers.  In fact, most of the characters were so fundamentally unlikeable that I wouldn’t much have minded if the spiders won the day.

***MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT FOR THE NEXT PARAGRAPH!!!***

Despite my initial dislike for the story, I pushed on and eventually came to the end – and even that cheesed me off.  There is a point at which a whole bunch of dormant spiders have set up shop in a stadium and someone suggests the obvious solution – consigning the whole structure to the cleansing breath of hot, melty fire.  Strangely enough, the protagonists decide NOT to go with the whole “burn it down” solution and instead decide to watch for a while to see what happens.  And that, my friends, is why we are going to be burdened with a sequel to this not-particularly-well-constructed “thriller”.

***SPOILER ALERT OVER – NORMAL SERVICE ABOUT TO RESUME!***

As you can probably tell, I was massively disappointed with the execution of what could have been a really chilling tale.  Coming, as I do, from a spider-infested continent, I am well aware of how terrifying spiders can be (especially when they unexpectedly show up on your windscreen while you’re driving), but the amount of distracting filler in this book rendered any sense of suspense or fear non-existent for me.

Clearly, this was not the most terrifying thriller I will read this year, but do not let my cranky rantings put you off having at it if you’re keen.  You might find it scares you right out of your pants!  If so, you’ll be in good company, as most of the characters in this book seem to spend quite a bit of time engaging in pants-free activity.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Yarning with Mad Martha about Nobody Likes a Goblin (+ a free crochet pattern!)

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yarning with mad martha_Fotor (2)

Cheerio my dears!  Today is a red-letter day because not only do I have a wonderful picture book and pattern for you, I can also reveal that today’s book – Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke – is a Top Book of 2016 Pick!  The perfect choice for little (and large!) dungeon-crawlers everywhere, this gorgeous picture book turns RPG adventuring on its head and presents events from the point of view of the supposed villain.

Bruce's Pick

After having seen the tome on Netgalley and writhing in agony because it was offered by First Second Books, who don’t accept review requests from outside the U.S., we spotted it in PanMacmillan Australia’s catalogue and were THRILLED to be lucky enough to receive a copy.  Honestly, you should have seen Bruce leaping and twirling when the book turned up on the shelf!  I won’t keep you in any more suspense however – here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Goblin, a cheerful little homebody, lives in a cosy, rat-infested dungeon, with his only friend, Skeleton. Every day, Goblin and Skeleton play with the treasure in their dungeon. But one day, a gang of “heroic” adventurers bursts in. These marauders trash the place, steal all the treasure, and make off with Skeleton—leaving Goblin all alone!

It’s up to Goblin to save the day. But first he’s going to have to leave the dungeon and find out how the rest of the world feels about goblins.

nobody likes a goblin.jpg

I cannot praise this book highly enough.  Putting aside the charming and fun illustrations for the moment, the text of this book is incredibly sympathetic to Goblin’s plight, as his home is rudely invaded by adventurous “heroes” and the little introvert must take to the big wide hostile world for the sake of those he values.  My favourite part of the tale is when, after rescuing his friends from the hands of the adventurers, Goblin and his stalwart mate Skeleton are pictured quietly sitting together in the mouth of a cave, “awaiting their doom” while angry, pitch-fork wielding townsfolk amass above.

There’s something really touching about Goblin and the bonds of friendship he forms by the end of the tale.  For young readers who enjoy the RPG gaming world that encompasses the tropes that are reversed here, this will be a wonderfully affirming story that will provide a link between their reading and screen-based worlds.  It has already become a firm favourite amongst the mini-fleshlings in this dwelling, with the youngest (two and three-quarter years old) often calling out for “Nobody don’t like a goblin” as the preferred bedtime story.

We unanimously voted this a Top Book of 2016 pick and we think that Goblin and his friends will fill that special place of all memorable characters from childhood reading experiences.  For that reason, my dears, allow me to provide you with a free pattern to make your very own amigurumi crochet Goblin, so you can oppose anti-goblin sentiments while creating a cuddly little friend !  Read on for the pattern.

goblin and bruce 1_Fotor

We are also submitting this book for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check out our progress toward that challenge here.

Yours in yarn,

Mad Martha

goblin and book 2_Fotor

Free Crochet Pattern – Goblin

This pattern is a bit fiddly, so is probably best suited to those with some experience of amigurumi.  The pattern is written using US crochet terms.

You will need:

Yarn (I used acrylic) in brown, blue, green, white, black, yellow.

4 mm hook

2.5 mm hook

Yarn needle

Scissors

Head/helmet:

Using brown yarn and 4mm hook, make a magic ring.

  1. Sc 6 in the ring.
  2. 2sc in each sc (12)
  3. *sc in next sc, 2sc in next sc* x 6 (18)
  4. * sc in next 2 sc, 2sc in next sc* x 6 (24)
  5. sc in each sc around (24).  Switch to green yarn.
  6. sc in each sc around (24)
  7. sc in each sc around (24)
  8. *sc in next 2 sc, sc2tog* x 6 (18). Begin stuffing head.
  9. *sc in next sc, sc2tog* x 6 (12)
  10. *sc in next sc, sc2tog* x 4 (8)
  11. sc2tog x 4 (4).  Sl st in next st, snip yarn and thread yarn tail through last four sc.  Pull tight and fasten off.

Helmet guard

Using brown yarn and 4mm hook, chain 20.  Slip stitch in the first chain to form a ring.

  1. sc in the next 10 ch, dc in the next 10 ch, sl st to the first sc
  2. Ch 2, turn, dc in next 10 stitches
  3. Ch 2, turn, hdc in next 3 stitches, dc in next 4 stitches, hdc in next 3 stitches.

Fasten off, leaving a long tail, and stitch to the bottom rim of the helmet, with the longer section at the back of the head.

Horns (make 2)

Using white yarn and a 2.5 mm hook, chain 6.

  1. Sc in 2nd chain from the hook and in each chain (5)
  2. Ch 1, turn, sc in each sc (5)
  3. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog, sc, sc2tog (3)
  4. Ch 1, turn, sc in each stitch (3)
  5. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog, sc (2)
  6. Ch 1, turn, sc in each stitch (2)
  7. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog, sl st to FO.

Whip stitch the two sides of the triangle together and sew onto either side of the helmet.

Eyes (make 2)

Using white yarn and a 2.5 mm hook, make a magic ring.

  1. Sc 6 in the ring.  Sl st to the first sc to close.

FO, embroider a black pupil in the centre and sew to face, slightly overlapping the rim of the helmet.

Jaw

Using green yarn and a 2.5mm hook, chain 13.

  1. sc in second chain from the hook and in each stitch across (12)
  2. Ch 1, turn, sl st in the next 3 sc, dc in next sc, sc in the next sc, sl st in the next sc, dc in the next sc, sl st in the next 3sc.

Fasten off leaving a long tail.  Attach to the bottom of the head, and using brown yarn, embroider along the top of the lip.

Nose 

Using green yarn and a 2.5mm hook, ch 4.

  1. sc in 2nd chain from the hook and in each chain (3)
  2. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog, sc (2)
  3. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog (1)

Fasten off and whip stitch two sides of the triangle together to form the nose.  Attach to face.

Body/Legs

Using brown yarn and a 4mm hook, complete pattern for the head up to and including round 4.

1-5. Sc in each sc around (24)

6. Switch to blue yarn.  Sc in each sc around (24)

7. Sc in next 12 sc, skip next 12 sc, sl st in the 1st sc (12)

8-10. Sc in next 12 sc (12)

Change to brown yarn.

11. Sc in next 12 sc (12)

12. sc in next 5 sc, 2sc in next 3 sc, sc in next 5sc (20)

13. Sc in the next 8 sts, dc in the next 4 sts, sc in the next 8 sc (20)

Stuff leg and body.  FO, Cut yarn and whip stitch bottom of leg closed to form boot.

Attach blue yarn in the first remaining sc on the body and repeat pattern from row 11 to form second leg/boot.

Arms (make 2)

Using blue yarn and a 4mm hook, make a magic ring.

1.Sc 6 in the ring

2-4. Sc in each st (6)

5. Switch to brown yarn. Sc in each st (6)

6-7.  Sc in each sc (6)

Stuff the arm, squeeze the opening shut and sl st across the opening.  Ch 3 picot 5 times to form fingers.  FO and attach to body.

Shoulder guards (make 2)

Using blue yarn and a 4mm hook, chain 7.

  1. Sc in 2nd chain from the hook and in each ch across (6)
  2. Ch 2, turn, hdc in each st across (6)
  3. Ch 1, turn, sc, dc in the next 4 sts, sc (6)

Fasten off and attach to the top of the arm.

Belt/Armour

Using brown yarn and a 2.5 mm hook, chain 30 and sl st with the first chain to form a ring.

  1. Ch 1, sc in each chain (30)
  2. Fur stitch (long) in the next 5 st, sc in the next 5sc, fur stitch in the next 5 st, sc in the next 5 sts, fur stitch in the next 5 sts, sl st to first st. (30)

FO, leaving a long tail.  Snip the loops of the fur stitch and sew the belt to the tummy over the join where the blue yarn changes to brown.Make sure the fur stitch sections are at the front and back, not the sides.  For the shoulder strap, chain the required length (to fit from belt, over shoulder, to belt at the back), ch 1, sc in each chain, then FO and sew shoulder strap into place.

Crown

Using yellow yarn and a 2.5mm hook, chain 30 and sl st into the first chain to form a ring.

  1. Sc in each chain (30)
  2. *Ch 5 picot (sl st, ch 5 and sl st in the same stitch), sc in the next 3 sc* repeat to end.  Sl st in final st.

FO, weave in end.

goblin and book 1_Fotor

 

 

 

 

 

Remade: A Jelly-Legs-Inducing, YA Read-it-if Review…

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read it if NEW BUTTON

Even though today’s book is pitched at YA readers, it is not for the faint of heart!  Remade by Alex Scarrow is a post-apocalyptic thriller that, suprisingly, given our general aversion to post-apocalyptic fare, we couldn’t devour fast enough.  We were lucky enough to receive a copy from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Leon and his younger sister, Grace, have recently moved to London from New York and are struggling to settle into their new school when rumours of an unidentified virus in Africa begin to fill the news. Within a week the virus hits London. The siblings witness people turning to liquid before their eyes, and they run for their lives. A month after touching Earth’s atmosphere the virus has assimilated the world’s biomass. But the virus isn’t their only enemy, and survival is just the first step . . .

remade

Read it if:

*your response to any kind of catastrophe, from burning the toast to the coming of the end of days, is decidedly British: to have a cup of tea and a good lie down

*when you hear potential bad news reported in the media, your first port-of-call is a web forum for conspiracy theorists to find out what’s REALLY going on

*you don’t care for train travel (or indeed, public transport of any kind) on account of the fact that it provides no escape from the press of unwashed humanity

*you firmly believe that even though the human race has been reduced to a handful of scraggly survivors, that’s no reason to abandon good manners

The suspense in the opening chapters of this book was so craftily built up that it snatched me with its suspenseful claws and had me halfway through the book before I stopped for a break.  I knocked the rest over in just a few short sittings and I am pleased to say that this is a quality series opener with a very creepy premise.  Essentially, a virus appears in Africa with the unfortunate consequence that those who acquire it become reduced to jelly and then bones within minutes.  Worse than that however, is the suggestion that the virus may actually go looking for further quarry once the original host has been devoured.

Once it becomes obvious that the virus isn’t some 48-hour flash in the pan, there is a sense of inevitability exuded in the narration of the story.  Leon, Grace and their mother, while attempting to flee the spread of the virus, retain a certain resignation that infection and jellification will feature largely in their individual near-futures.  There was something about the inescapable nature of this virus and the extremely short-term goal setting it inspires in the main characters that was reassuring to me and I think allowed me to enjoy this story more than other post-apocalyptic YA novels I’ve read.  I didn’t have to worry about the ways in which they might achieve survival months or years down the track because there was a very real chance that they would be nought but a pile of bones within the next few moments.

My favourite part of the novel is an over-riding sense of Britishness that pervades it.  I realise that politeness and orderliness are not solely the province of the British, but there was such a feeling of warm familiarity that came over me as I was reading – particularly during the scene on the train – that I allowed myself a little chuckle at the fact that even during the collapse of civilisation, these characters were still prepared to maintain a semblance of decorum,  stiff-upper-lippedness and general good manners.

The virus itself is a clever character, if I may use that term, because it is unlike any virus that microbiologists have yet encountered.  It seems to evolve in stages, developing different ways of threatening those it didn’t mince first time around, thus providing for new and interesting dangers for our protagonists beyond the immediate run away screaming type response.   The ending provides a fantastic cliff-hanger in this regard and I would be interested to see where the story goes next.  Having said that, there is enough action and creepiness and character building going on in this novel to ward off feelings of desperation regarding the next stage in the story.

There are a few aspects of the plot that might grate on more seasoned readers of post-apocalyptic tales than I (convenient access to resources required for survival, for instance) and I did have a few questions when the reason behind the protagonists supposed “immunity” was revealed (namely that, based on my casual, and not at all scientific, calculations, I would have expected a much higher rate of survival given the key “immunity” factor).  These plot holes didn’t bother me too much though, mainly due to the absorbing action of the story and the excellent pacing.

While I will keep an eye out for the next book, I’m satisfied to wait for a bit and digest (pardon the pun) the relationships and character growth presented in this impressive offering.  I’d definitely recommend having a bash at this one if you are looking for a good old-fashioned scare-a-thon with a large helping of hope.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Venus Flytraps and Wandering Spirits: A Double Dip Review…

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image

Today’s Double Dip review will have you walking (or possibly skating or gliding) on the wild side as we explore an illustrated, comedic middle grade offering featuring a talking Venus Flytrap, and a collection of traditional ghost and scary stories.  For this reason then, it might be best if you choose an accompanying snack that doesn’t spill easily, as we take no responsibility for clothes ruined due to spillage from jumping in fright or guffawing with mirth.  We received both of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s dig in.

First up, we have Inspector Flytrap and the Big Deal Mysteries by Tom Angleberger and illustrated by Cece Bell.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

From husband-and-wife team Tom Angleberger, creator of theNew York Times bestselling Origami Yoda series, and Cece Bell, author/illustrator of the Newbery Honor graphic novel El Deafo,comes the start to a funny and clever illustrated chapter-book series about a mystery-solving Venus flytrap. With easy-to-read language and illustrations on almost every page, this early-chapter-book series is a must for beginning readers.

Inspector Flytrap in the Da Vinci Cold introduces kids to the humorous and wacky world of Inspector Flytrap’s Detective Agency, home to the world-renowned solver of BIG DEAL mysteries. The plant detective works tirelessly with his assistant Nina the Goat on his community’s unsolved cases. There’s no case too big, but there are definitely cases too small for this endearingly self-important plant detective.

Celebrating the disabled yet enabled, the character of Inspector Flytrap is wheeled everywhere (on a skateboard, of course) by his goat sidekick as this mystery-solving duo works on cases such as “The Big Deal Mystery of the Stinky Cookies” and “The Big Deal Mystery of the Missing Rose.”

On his first caper, Inspector Flytrap heads to the Art Museum’s Secret Lab to discover what important message lies in a mysterious glob on a recently discovered Da Vinci flower painting. The ingenious solution: Da Vinci was allergic to flowers, and the glob is, er, evidence of that ancient sneeze.

Combining wacky humor and a silly cast of characters with adventure, friendship, and mystery, the powerhouse team of Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell have created a uniquely engaging series that is perfect for newly independent readers and fans of Ricky Ricotta, Captain Underpants, and the Galaxy Zack series. Also included in these books are some graphic novel–style pages that will attract reluctant readers.

Dip into it for…  inspector flytrap

…an illustrated, slapstick adventure that has kid appeal in spades.  As you can probably tell from the cover, Inspector Flytrap is no stranger to utter ridiculum, given that he gets about on a skateboard pushed by an obliging goat.  This series is aimed at the lower end of the middle grade age bracket as it is filled with repetitive gags – such as everyone getting Inspector Flytrap’s official title wrong – and rather obvious (or ridiculously outrageous) solutions to the BIG DEAL mysteries.

Don’t dip if…

You are looking for a middle grade read that will appeal to adult readers as well as the target age group.  To be honest, I found this to be a bit of trial to read and I suspect that this is one of those MG offerings that will appeal to its target age group, but not necessarily to the adults who may have to read it to or with them.  Admittedly,  the odd guffaw did escape my stony lips at a few points due to the blatant and silly nature of the comedy, however I do not feel any need to follow up with Inspector Flytrap in his adventures that are yet to come.

Overall Dip Factor

This is one of those middle grade reads that blends visual and textual information to its great advantage. The illustrations add immensely to the appeal of the book as one would expect, and are integral to the telling of the story.  Keep an eye out for the unobtrusive sloth (the real hero of the tale in my opinion) and Nina the goat for providing much of the visual comedy.  Without question, this is another addition to that wealth of middle grade literature aimed at kids who just want to have fun with their reading.

Next up we have The Thing at the Foot of the Bed (and other Scary Tales) by Maria Leach and illustrated by Kurt Werth.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A mysterious hitchhiker, a lovelorn pig, and a backseat gangster are among the colorful characters that populate these spooky stories. Noted folklorist Maria Leach spins a tapestry of yarns that originated in the British Isles, New England, and the American South. Moody black-and-white drawings complement the stories, which range from humorous and playful to downright eerie.
There’s the one about the fellow who saw two eyes staring at him from the foot of the bed, and the one about the family that ran away from their malevolent household spirit only to find that it had come with them. The tale of the golden arm, a favorite of Mark Twain’s, is a standard of campfire gatherings. Other chilling stories recount scenes from haunted houses, ghostly visitations, and midnight trips to the graveyard. An amusing selection of “Do’s and Don’t’s About Ghosts” offers advice to those who go looking for scares as well as those who find them accidentally, and the stories’ sources and backgrounds are explained in helpful notes and a bibliography.

Dip into it for...the thing at the foot of the bed

…a selection of traditional ghost stories ranging from mildly humorous to reasonably tedious, plus a bizarre collection of beliefs about ghosts and ghostly behaviour and some ghostly games to play.  I wasn’t aware on reading this that it was originally published in 1959, so the old-fashioned feel to the format and narratives isn’t so much old-fashioned, as contemporary for the time!  The stories are split into sections – scary tales, funny tales and real ones (although how the “real” ones differ from the others is unclear) – and each of the tales is linked to its supposed origins, as far as they are known.  This is quite a quick read, with most of the stories only taking up one or two pages each, along with an illustration.

Don’t dip if…

…you are looking for a book with actual scary tales.  It may be that Bart Simpson was correct when he posited that perhaps people were just easier to scare in “the olden days” but I found nothing even remotely scary about the stories contained in this book.  Also, the narrative style is so abrupt and unlike most writing for children today that I can’t imagine many younger readers will be particularly frightened by the stories either – which I suppose could be a good thing, if you’re a natural scaredy cat.

Overall Dip Factor

This book was a spectacular disappointment for me overall.  I can forgive some of the flaws given that it was published in a different era of reading, but the style of never kick a ghostwriting didn’t seem to lend itself to scary stories in my opinion.  One of the problems I had, that is peculiar to vintage texts, is that I had recently heard or read some of the stories contained here in much more interesting formats.  Don’t Ever Kick A Ghost turned up as a title story in an early reader belonging to the eldest mini-fleshling (pictured), while Julian Clary reads a cracking rendition of The Hairy Toe in an episode of Bookaboo, titled The Golden Arm in this collection.  There were a few stories that I enjoyed – Milk Bottles and Wait ‘Til Martin Comes being the standouts – but otherwise I didn’t find much to crow about.  Unless you are specifically looking for traditional ghost stories told in a narrative style common in the 1960s, you might be disappointed with this collection.

So did your clothes remain unstained by errant foodstuffs?  If not, it’s probably because of the content of the books.  I take no responsibility.

Until next time,

Bruce