Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Utterly Magical” Edition…

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Saddle up your most mythical beast because I have four magical titles for you today: three for younger readers and one for the grown-ups.  Let’s get cracking!

Not So Much, Said the Cat (Michael Swanwick)

*I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  not so much said the cat

This is a cracking collection of sci-fi and fantasy short stories well worth immersing one’s self in.  The stories span multiple fantasy worlds with humour and plenty of twists.

Muster up the motivation because…

…all of the stories in this collection reek of quality writing.  Swanwick clearly knows his craft because each story, though set in its own discrete universe, feels like a complete world in itself.  The opener, The Man in Grey, is a mind-boggling speculative piece steeped in humour that will have you questioning every set piece of your ordinary existence.  Some of the stories read like fables or fairy tales, others like cutting-edge science fiction.  There really is something for everyone here and as most of the stories span more than a few pages each, you can take the time to get lost in your particular little world without fearing it will be over before it really begins.  The best thing about these stories is that they don’t feel like they are variations on a similar theme or even slight twists on familiar tropes, but like actual original tales.  Our favourites of the bunch are The Scarecrow’s Boy, a bizarre but touching story about a child on the run, and Goblin Lake, a fairy tale complete with revenge, riddles, ruination and redemption.  I would definitely recommend this to lovers of all things left-of-centre.

Brand it with:

Tales of sadness and wo–ah, that’s a bit weird; sci-fantasy; speculative

Wildwitch: Wildfire (Lene Kaaberbol)

* I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis: wildwitch wildfire

Clara always thought she was ordinary until strange, dangerous things start happening around her. Whisked off to learn the ways of the wildwitch from her aunty, Clara thinks she’ll be safe, if a little bored, but nothing could be further than the truth.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a delightful, timeless-feeling story of witchery and magic with a down-to-earth heroine.  There’s something charmingly old-fashioned about the style of narrative here, as the focus is entirely on the action, rather than establishing Clara as a child of a particular contemporary time.  It’s refreshing to read a middle grade novel that doesn’t faff about with done-to-death school bullies and all that rubbish and just sticks to the trials of the main character.  The villain of the piece is scary indeed, with a malicious streak that could spell disaster for Clara.  The book is quite a quick read and the pacing is spot on, with no time wasted as Clara is moved to her aunt’s house to begin her training.  I loved the particular magical world and lore that was built up in this story and I would be very interested to see what happens next.  I’d recommend this one to lovers of simple but action-packed magical stories and those who would just adore having their own magical familiar to hang out with.

Brand it with:

The trouble with cats; large wings don’t an angel make; born to be wild

The Monstrous Child (Francesca Simon)

*I received a print copy of this title from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

the monstrous child

The Monstrous Child (Francesca Simon) Published by Allen & Unwin, 22 June 2016.  RRP: $19.99

Hel is a corpse child, born with a living body and dead legs, and destined to become the Queen of the Underworld. This is her story, from her humble and grimy beginnings to her humble and grimy end.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you are a fan of Norse mythology, this will be everything you could hope for in a novel for younger readers.  I was unaware that this is actually the third book in the Mortal Gods series (the first of which, The Sleeping Army, I have had on my TBR list since it was published).  This may explain why the writing seemed so obfuscating; it seemed like Simon expected the reader to know more about Hel’s life and background than Hel was prepared to tell us.  I had trouble with this one because the narrative style, which sees Hel explaining her entire life to the reader, focused heavily on telling, rather than showing.  Hel, as a character, is also reasonably dire and grim, and so the reader isn’t exactly invited to engage deeply with her as a person (god).  Having not read the first two books in the series, I can’t say whether this is a departure or continuation from the earlier novels, but I would recommend reading the first two books before picking this one up, unless you are the sort that loves a challenging, and slightly discombobulating read.

Brand it with:

Norse code; Winners and losers; the unacknowledged child

The Changelings (Christina Soontornvat)

*I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the changelings

Izzy and Hen are forced to move to their grandmother’s old house in the most boring town in the universe, where their next-door neighbour is probably a witch. When Hen goes missing however, Izzy finds out that sometimes it pays to make friends with your (possibly witchy) neighbours.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you enjoy your standard down-the-rabbit-hole stories based in Celtic folklore then this will scratch your itch.  The beginning of the tale is fairly typical for middle grade magical fare – kids move to a seemingly boring new home before discovering a magical world and being plunged into adventure – but there are so many interesting and quirky characters sprinkled throughout that the tropes can be overlooked a little.  Our heroines are immediately split up of course, leading to a two-pronged narrative attack, with Izzy on one side and the kidnapped Hen on the other, and historical, cultural and (magically) political motives coming into play.  Overall, this is a fun romp with some likable and unexpected characters, plenty of humour and exactly the sort of derring-do you would expect from a pair of kids lost in the land of faerie.

Brand it with:

If you go down to the woods today; grandmother’s secrets; fun with faerie

Take your magical pick, my friends.  Surely there is something here to entice you!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Baaaa-aack…on the Kid Lit Blog Hop!

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I am super-duper, mega excited to be back on the Kid Lit Blog Hop! Yippee!  I have been asked to serve as a host for this fun hop and so every month you can pop on in and add any links to posts you have relating to Kidlit! Read on to find out how and to visit the other participating hoppers.

We want to welcome you to the August 2016 Kid Lit Blog Hop. It’s back to school time! Some kids are already in school, some are going soon. The kids will be bringing home great books from their libraries. How about you share some of those on our monthly hop or for that matter, any great kid’s literature.

 
This month we welcome a new co-host, Bruce from the Bookshelf Gargoyle! We welcome you
 
aboard and so glad you are here with us! (THANKS!)
 

This exciting, monthly hop, is where we develop an engaged group of people who love everything that has to do with children’s literature. Everyone is welcome to join us: bloggers, authors, publicist, and publishers!

 
Have you seen the new Kid Lit Blog Hopper Facebook fan page. This page has all the news and information related to the hop plus ongoing posts, giveaways, news articles, etc. related to Kid’s Lit. Check it out and of course, please like the page.
 

So for our hop, please make sure that your posts are related to Children’s literature only and add it to the linky. (Please make sure to add your direct post only) If you are an author, feel free just to link to your blog.

 

Once you are done, then hop around to visit others. Please follow the co-host and visit at least the one-two people above your link. Please leave a comment when you do visit, we all like those.

Also, it would be appreciated if you grab the Kid Lit Blog Hop Badge and display it on your blog and/or your post.

We would also be grateful if you tweet and/or posted on Facebook about the blog hop. Let’s grow this wonderful community.
 
Our next hop will be September 21, 2016.  Thanks for sharing your great children’s books with all of us! The hostess will be around to see you.

Happy Hopping!

Julie Grasso

BeachBoundBooks

Cheryl Carpinello

Pragmatic Mom

The Logonauts

Spark and Pook

Hits and Misses

To see the posts and visit the participants, just click on the below link:

Powered by Linky Tools

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

OzYA, Cults and Suspending One’s Disbelief: The Boundless Sublime…

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the boundless sublime

The Bounless Sublime (Lili Wilkinson) Published by Allen & Unwin, 27 July 2016.  RRP: $19.99

I have a right little firecracker of a story for you today, gratefully received from Allen & Unwin for review.  The Boundless Sublime is a new YA novel by Aussie author Lili Wilkinson, dealing with grief, abandonment, love, vulnerability and coercion.  I was in two minds about this one while reading it, but on reflection, I think Wilkinson has crafted a clever story here that is most believable because to many of us, it won’t be believable at all. I will explain this contradictory statement, but first, here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Ruby Jane Galbraith is empty. Her family has been torn apart and it’s all her fault.

The only thing that makes sense to her is Fox – a gentle new friend who is wise, soulful and clever, yet oddly naive about the ways of the world. He understands what she’s going through and he offers her a chance to feel peace. Fox belongs to a group called the Institute of the Sublime – and Ruby can’t stay away from him. So she is also drawn in to what she too late discovers is a terrifying secretive community that is far from the ideal world she expected.

Can Ruby find the courage to escape? Is there any way she can save Fox too? And is there ever really an escape from the far-reaching influence of the Institute of the Sublime?

A gripping YA novel about an ordinary girl who is unsuspectingly inducted into a secretive modern-day cult.

Having sat on the shelf of a university undergrad completing a major in Studies of Religion, many moons ago, I have already had an interesting taste of the research that has gone into cults, or new religious movements, as they are sometimes called.  I didn’t realise until I’d seen some reviews of this one that it featured cultish content, but once I did know, I was a bit sceptical as to how the author was going to make this an engaging story without it becoming cheesy and unrealistic.

The book opens on a pretty dour note: Ruby is living in a sort of suspended time with her mother after a tragic accident that caused the permanent separation of their family.  Ruby’s mother is practically catatonic, Ruby can’t find meaning in doing the everyday things like going to school and life generally seems to be a pointless, meaningless black hole.  It is from this viewpoint that Ruby interprets the unexpected kindness of Fox, a young man handing out free bottles of water on the street.  She sees him as beautiful, in an almost otherworldly way, and is drawn to his naivety and his seemingly solid grip on his world.

From here, it is only a matter of time – and the painless severing of a few social and familial ties – until Ruby is subsumed into Fox’s social circle and into a community of “like-minded” souls, and the “cult” aspect of the story really begins in earnest.

This book felt to me like it had a few distinctive parts.  Initially, we see the surly, disconnected and generally unlikable Ruby who is so focused on the guilt, grief and chaos of her life that any other viewpoint seems laughably untenable.  Soon after this we see a bit of insta-love or at least, infatuation, as Ruby becomes consumed with thoughts of Fox and sees him as an almost-saviour from her meaningless existence.  Then comes doubting Ruby, who questions her new situation yet lacks the will to act in her own best interests. I won’t say any more than that because one of the best parts of the book, I felt, is the fact that Ruby goes through so many changes in thought process and personality, that the atmosphere of the story is constantly in flux and we just aren’t sure what will happen next.

A number of reviewers have noted that parts of the story seem so ridiculous and unlikely that they couldn’t suspend their disbelief in order to engage with the stories.  On one level, I can certainly see where they are coming from, becuase there were times during the book that I too was thinking, “AS IF!”  I think that in order to appreciate it fully, one has to come at the story from the point of view that none of us thinks that we would ever be “dumb” enough to get caught up in a cult.  Even Ruby has her doubts and eye-roll moments at the beginning.  Part of the power of cults is that recruitment relies on individuals who are vulnerable, possibly suffering under mental illness or at least mental stress, and in a social position from which it is easy (or even preferable) to disengage – and Ruby fits the bill on each of these counts.  Add to that the fact that she is a teenager, without fully developed reason centres in her brain, and the thought of a clever, attractive young girl getting caught up in such a community – and then being unable to find a way to leave it – isn’t such a stretch.

This isn’t meant to be a factual book about cults – it is fiction, for young adults, with crazy romance, teen angst and all of the other things that typify YA, so in that regard I feel I can cut it some slack in the unbelievability stakes.  If you are prepared to come at it with a bit of an open mind and the knowledge that some events will seem a unlikely, then you will find an unusual and pacey tale featuring action, philosophical debate, love, betrayal, crazy gurus, bald-headed children and a second half that pelts toward the finish.

Give it a crack and let me know what you think!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Monday is for Murder: First Class Murder (+ a little extra!)

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It’s Monday, so it’s murder time and today I am catching up on a series I just love to bits. I’ve also got a little extra today, with a short story from the same series.  First Class Murder is book three in Robin Stevens’ wildly popular Wells & Wong series for younger readers that harks back to the golden age of British murder mystery fiction.  I am desperately trying to keep pace with the series, but am still one book behind (soon to be two, as Mistletoe and Murder is to be released before Christmas in a fetching and festive red cover!!).  Let’s battle on then, with the blurb from Goodreads:

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are taking a holiday through Europe on the world-famous Orient Express. From the moment the girls step aboard, it’s clear that each of their fellow first-class passengers has something to hide. Even more intriguing: rumour has it that there is a spy in their midst.

Then, during dinner, there is a bloodcurdling scream from inside one of the cabins. When the door is broken down, a passenger is found murdered, her stunning ruby necklace gone. But the killer is nowhere to be seen – almost as if they had vanished into thin air.

Daisy and Hazel are faced with their first ever locked-room mystery – and with competition from several other sleuths, who are just as determined to crack the case as they are.

first class murder

Plot Summary:

First Class Murder is a tribute to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, not a retelling for juniors, so while there will be familiar aspects – the unexpected stoppage, for example – don’t expect the story to unfold in exactly the same fashion.  The girls find themselves on the train and under the ever-watchful eye of Hazel’s father; the grown-ups seem to think that the girls have got themselves into enough mischief and danger to be going on with and a change of scenery and civilised society should do them a world of good.  Even before the murder happens, Daisy is determined to scent adventure, and after the incident Daisy and Hazel must employ all of their wits and cunning to continue detecting under the nose of a variety of meddling adults.

The Usual Suspects:

There’s a real collection of weirdos colourful characters on the train, including an elderly and angry Russian Countess, a writer of appalling crime novels, a spiritual medium, a world famous magician, a purveyor of diet pills, a wealthy heiress and a familiar face in unfamiliar clothing.  All of them have a motive for murdering the poor unfortunate victim and all seem to have skills that could lend themselves to a classic, locked room mystery!

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

The detecting aspect of the case has an added element of fun in this book because the girls have been expressly forbidden to engage in any detection by not one, but two, authoritative figures after the murder takes place.  This means that a lot of listening at doors and hiding under tables is required in order to get the juicy clues.  The prospect of competition is raised too, as the bumbling Doctor Sandwich and his much cleverer sidekick Alexander, are officially “on the case”.  There are some red herrings left lying about in plain sight as well as a few hints that clever clogs should pick up on fairly early on, but the entire puzzle should remain a mystery until the reveal.

Overall Rating:

poison clip art poison clip art poison clip art poison clip art

Four poison bottles for the cheering prospect of being murdered in first class luxury

First Class Murder felt like the most fun of the three books I have read of this series.  There’s the light-hearted feeling of adventure from going on an unexpected holiday, the vaguely amusing collection of characters on the train and the lengths to which Daisy and Hazel must go to ferret out the murderer/s.  I particularly enjoyed the introduction of Alexander and the mention of the Junior Pinkertons, as I think the girls can handle a little competition and this sets things up nicely for later books in the series.  It was also a wonderful twist that the book doesn’t just become a retelling of Murder on the Orient Express, because it means that the reveal isn’t a given for anyone who has read that other classic story first.  Overall, this was an excellent, slightly quirky addition to the series and I can’t wait to back up with book four, Jolly Foul Play.

I’m submitting this book under category seven of The Title Fight Reading Challenge: a book with a word or phrase implying victory in the title.  Only one more category to go to complete this challenge! To find out more about the challenge (and join in – there’s still plenty of time!) just click on this large attractive button:

Title Fight Button 2016

Now I told you there’d be a little extra on this post, so I will now mini-review The Case of the Blue Violet by Robin Stevens.  It’s a little ebook novella – book three-and-a-half in the series, if you will – featuring Daisy and Hazel back at school at Deepdean.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

I am the Honourable Daisy Wells, President of the Detective Society, one of the greatest detectives ever known – and also a fourth former at Deepdean School for Girls.

Violet Darby – one of the Big Girls – recently asked me to solve a most puzzling romantic mystery. I knew I’d be able to crack the case, and I did, in just a day and a half. It was one of my greatest triumphs (Hazel Wong, my Vice-President and best friend, is telling me that this is boasting, but it is also the truth). Hazel didn’t believe I would have the patience to write the account of it, but of course, she was wrong. I did write it down, and it came out very well.

I now, therefore, present to you: the Case of the Blue Violet.

blue violet

This novella can be knocked over in under half an hour if you’re quick and is the perfect teaser for when you are in-between the novels.  There’s no murder in this one, but instead a mystery relating to the love interest of an older girl at Deepdean.  I won’t say much about the plot because, this being such a short story, I would give too much away, but the puzzle is just as satisfying to solve as the more complex ones found in the novels.  Keen-eyed readers may have an inkling as to which way the wind is blowing here, but the brevity of the story means it’s loaded with fun and the pace is quick.  I’d definitely recommend this as a perfect pick for when you need a brain-break, or as a great taster for the series as a whole.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Thank Goodness it’s TBR Friday!

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TBR Friday

I’ve got a gently odd little offering for today’s climb up Mount TBR.  It’s adult fiction (memoir?) The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide and translated by Eric Selland.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another.

One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife; they go walking together, talk and share stories of the cat and its little ways, play in the nearby Garden. But then something happens that will change everything again.

The Guest Cat is an exceptionally moving and beautiful novel about the nature of life and the way it feels to live it. Written by Japanese poet and novelist Takashi Hiraide, the book won Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, and was a bestseller in France and America.

the guest cat

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Probably about a year?  I can’t say exactly as I didn’t buy this one myself.

Acquired:

Received as a birthday gift

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

It’s a very slim tome, so of course I put it off under the logic that as it’s so thin I could pick it up and knock it over anytime.  Also, the sensible, grown up, adultness of the subject matter had me a tiny bit intimidated, even though I asked someone to buy this for me because I wanted to read it.

Best Bits:

  • It’s rare to find such a gentle story in which the content is so limited, yet still engaging: this is literally a man reflecting on his life with his wife and the next-door neighbour’s cat.  I don’t think there’s any massive, deep analogy that I’m missing.  It’s a pretty straightforward reflection on life, relationships and loss. And the habits of cats.
  • The writing is … sublime seems too committed a word, but  maybe majestic could be a good way to describe it.  Majestic without being arrogant.  Rapturous but at the same time, quotidian.  There’s an elevation to the writing which makes the ordinary events being described feel like something important.
  • The book is slim and can be read quite quickly.  Alternatively, the content works well for just taking things a chapter at a time due to the lack of exciting action.
  • If you have a particularly deep love for felines, you will probably delight in the detailed descriptions of the cat’s cute idiosyncracies.
  • There is a section at the back with some notes that give context to some of the events that might be missed or misinterpreted by non-Japanese readers.  I found this quite helpful in re-examining a particular event toward the end.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • The print in this edition is teeny-weeny.
  • Without spoiling the events of the book for you, by the end of the book, the man and his wife seemed a little too attached to the cat to the point that it was interfering with their ability to move on.  Literally move on, since they move house.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Considering it wasn’t my money that paid for it, yes.  Particularly since it isn’t at all my usual type of read, and therefore it is unlikely that I would ever have bought it for myself.

Where to now for this tome?

I will probably pass it on to someone who will enjoy it. Or possibly sell it at a Suitcase Rummage.

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

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

A YA Double-Dip: Italian Accidents and High Stakes Reality…

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I would suggest grabbing a juicy, juicy snack for today’s Double-Dip review because we have two YA novels oozing juicy, juicy gossip.  Everyone knows I never repeat gossip.  So listen carefully as we dive on in!

First up, we have Nerve by Jeanne Ryan, kindly provided to us for review by Simon & Schuster Australia.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Emma Roberts and Dave Franco–a high-stakes online game of dares turns deadly in this suspenseful debut

When Vee is picked to be a player in NERVE, an anonymous game of dares broadcast live online, she discovers that the gameknows her. They tempt her with prizes taken from her ThisIsMe page and team her up with the perfect boy, sizzling-hot Ian. At first it’s exhilarating–Vee and Ian’s fans cheer them on to riskier dares with higher stakes. But the game takes a twisted turn when they’re directed to a secret location with five other players for the Grand Prize round. Suddenly they’re playing all or nothing, with their lives on the line. Just how far will Vee go before she loses NERVE.

Dip into it for… nerve

…a reasonably unbelievable, but fun and fast-paced story for those times you need to take a break from adulting (or young-adulting).  Despite having very little in the way of character development and some plot twists that seem dubious at best, there was still something about this book that kept me hanging in there.  I don’t think this one will be claiming any prizes for sophisticated writing, but I still enjoyed the sheer unlikeliness of some of the events – simply because they were unlikely, and therefore unpredictable.  The ending ramps up the action and danger considerably and ended up being my favourite part in a bizarre, action movie type of way.

Don’t dip if…

…you enjoy books that feature characters with coherent back stories, and at least a basic explanation for why certain things are happening.  There are gaping holes here for almost every character, so it’s hard to really connect with any of them on more than a superficial level.  Vee, for instance, has obviously had a recent mental health issue (or is it?) that caused her to be hospitalised, and as a result of this her parents…..ground her.  I’m not certain in what universe a parent would think grounding someone is an appropriate response to an apparent suicide attempt (or is it?) but that’s the sort of explanatory black hole to which I refer.  There isn’t a lot going on in terms of world-building either, to explain the hows and whys and who’s of Nerve (the game) and the people behind it.

Overall Dip Factor

If you can suspend your disbelief and your natural sense of curiosity about certain characters and their motivations (’cause you ain’t going to find out anything about ’em), this would be a great choice for a lazy beach or Saturday afternoon read.  There’s some fairly predictable romance thrown in, but overall the pace of the book is quite quick, with Vee and Ian moving from one dare to the next within the space of a few hours or days at most.  If you think you might like to give this one a crack, just be aware that it’s more action than substance.

Next up we have With Malice by Eileen Cook, which we received from Allen & Unwin for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Wish you weren’t here…

When Jill wakes up in a hospital bed with her leg in a cast, the last six weeks of her life are a complete blank. All she has been told is that she was involved in a fatal accident while on a school trip in Italy and had to be jetted home to receive intensive care. Care that involves a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…. wasn’t just an accident.

With no memory of what happened or what she did, can Jill prove her innocence? And can she really be sure that she isn’t the one to blame?

Dip into it for…

with malice

…a solid stab at the oft-used “amnesia” story-line with a quirky format to push things along and a cheeky ending that had me nodding with satisfaction at the unexpectedness of it.  I don’t know whether you’ve noticed but there do seem to be an awful lot of “person wakes up in hospital with no memory of how they got there and finds themselves accused of a crime” books getting around at the moment.  I found With Malice to be toward the top of the pile of books with this story-line that I have come across, mainly due to the formatting; rather than just a standard novel, the author has included bits of police transcripts, emails, blog posts and all sorts to drip feed new information to the reader.  The book follows a sort of “main character POV” chapter followed by alternative storytelling method” structure and I found that this really kept my interest in the story up.  The ending has a sense of inevitability about it, but a few twists in terms of motives and behaviours so that although the reader might be able to guess what happened towards the end, they probably won’t guess why it happened.  The incident also takes place in Italy, so there is a very slight sense of “abroad” about it all, which makes a nice change from the typical USA-set YA tale.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like amnesia stories.  Although there are quirks in the format and ending, overall this reads exactly as you’d expect it to as Jill tries to get her memory back and doesn’t necessarily know what to believe.

Overall Dip Factor

While I don’t feel that this is the greatest amnesiac murder mystery ever written, there was enough here to keep me interested.  I particularly enjoyed the police interview transcripts and the ways that minor characters viewed the event – what particular things they noticed and how their opinions on what happened differed from each other.  I’d say that this is another good candidate for a lazy beach read, with some unexpected quirks to spice up a familiar plot-line.

Well, did you manage not to spill the beans onto your outfit?  I hope one of these juicy little numbers has taken your fancy!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

A Maniacal Book Club Review (and Top Book of 2016 Pick!): The Girl Who Drank the Moon…

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Well, we all agree – today’s book is a Top Book of 2016 pick!  

Bruce's Pick

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill is a delightfully original fantasy tale for middle grade readers featuring dragons, swamp monsters, magic, abandoned babies and a whole lot more.  We received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley for review, but were unprepared for the complex and well-plotted story upon which we were about to embark.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.
girl who drank the moon

And here’s what the Maniacal Book Club have to say on the topic…

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

If a baby is left in the forest and no one is around, will anyone hear its plaintive cries?  That depends on who you ask, according to the stories passed down in the Protectorate and the Free Cities. Perhaps it will be heard by a witch.  Perhaps a saviour.  Perhaps its heart-broken mother.  If you were to ask a Guru, he might say that a special child like Luna will always find a way to have her voice heard by the people who matter.  Even if that voice is silenced by loss and witchery.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

 

THERE IS A DRAGON IN THIS BOOK!!!!  Fyrian is the dragon and he is tiny and funny and he is Luna’s pet but before that he was Xan’s pet.  Xan is the witch and Fyrian calls her Aunty Xan.  There is a sad story about what happened to Fyrian’s family but I can’t tell you what it is because Bruce says that would be spoiling it.  Even though Fyrian is really tiny he turns out to be important in the end.  I really liked Aunty Xan too and especially Glerk.  Glerk is a swamp monster and also a poet.

I think kids who love adventure and dragons would like this book.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

Under the moon, 

in a dark, hidden forest,

a baby is taken from her home.

Under the moon, 

in a dark hidden forest, 

a girl finds a home.

Under the moon, 

in a dark, hidden forest,

a girl makes a home

in her heart.

Bruce

maniacal book club bruce

It’s a tricky thing these days to find a book – in any genre, for any age group – that feels like a breath of fresh air.  The Girl Who Drank the Moon, while using some familiar themes from children’s literature, feels like it has been put together in a wholly new way.

The story is a complex mix of fantasy, family drama and socio-political tussle that plays out over the span of Luna’s young life, culminating in a satisfying finish in which the inner doubts and flaws of various characters are realised, overcome (in some cases) and incorporated into new lives, and we witness Luna’s transition to almost-adulthood.

There are a great range of original characters here, from Xan, the “witch” who does what she deems to be right despite not understanding why a certain city continues with a bizarre and seemingly useless ritual; there’s Glerk, the swamp monster who was born at the beginning of the world (or did he birth the world at the beginning?) and is Xan’s firm friend and resident poet; and Fyrian, the tiny dragon who thinks he is enormous and seems capable of nothing but pure love and joy for his odd little family.  There is also an unexpected villain (about whom I shall say no more in order not to spoil things), a desperate, grieving mother who becomes far more than the madwoman she is branded to be and a pure-hearted, and a pure-hearted ordinary man who loves a pure-hearted ordinary woman and wants nothing more than to live a peaceful life in the bosom of his family.

Reflecting on this one, I can see some underlying themes of integrity in the midst of confusion, standing up for what’s right, even if it means standing alone, and the fact that great suffering can, in some cases, find great healing, given time and the right circumstances.  While these themes aren’t laboured by the author, their inclusion gives this story depth and raises it above the level of your typical middle grade fantasy adventure.  There are real lives playing out in this world of magic, and it’s a wonderful thing for authors to trust that young readers can handle difficult topics if they are presented with authentic characters.

I highly recommend this to adult readers as well as younger ones, as the story is one that defies being labelled with a particular age-grouping.  We definitely suggest having a crack at this one if you are a fan of magic and fantasy in a context that doesn’t discount the need for characters that feel real and deep and developed.

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang!)

 

An Interview with Bruce regarding Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Parts I & II)

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I’m not sure whether you’re aware of the fact, but the eighth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Parts I & II) was released last week.  I had already made the decision not to rush out and buy it, being content to wait until I was in a Potterish sort of mood to invite it into the Shelfish circle….and THEN…a hefty package arrived at the door from Hachette Australia containing the very tome that others were scratching their eyes out to read!  I must convey the Shelf’s deepest thanks to Hachette for sending us a copy of this massively coveted book.

Of course, all thoughts of waiting for the right mood flew out the window and I flew into the story, finishing it in just a few short sittings.  I pondered how I was possibly going to be able to review it for you without spoiling it for those who haven’t yet read it, and I have decided that I will structure my review as an interview with myself, so that if a question looks a bit spoilery for your tastes, you can skip over that bit.  Before we crack on, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

And now, I give you: Bruce’s thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (etc, etc)!

“What should Potter fans be prepared for before launching into this addition to the series?  How does it differ from the previous novels?”

The most important difference I noticed when reading this was the fact that, as it isn’t a novel but rather a play script, the story misses all the imagery from the previous novels.  Apart from a few stage notes, the action takes place entirely in dialogue, and this can take a while to get used to and feel quite bereft of substance.  Also, the main characters in this story are Harry’s and Draco’s children and if you haven’t read Deathly Hallows for a while, it can be a bit tricky to remember who belongs to who.  I had some trouble with characters referring to Harry’s children Lily and James, because my mind went straight to Harry’s parents out of force of habit.

“Since this wasn’t written solely by Jo, does it feel like a real Harry Potter book?”

Yes…..and no.  There were moments when I was reading that I was whisked back to that feeling I had when reading the original stories for the first time.  The world, the characters, everything felt just as it always had been.  For most of the book though, certain things felt….a bit off.  I’m not sure whether this had to do with the fact that this was a play script rather than a novel, or the fact that I was journeying with new characters, or the fact that it wasn’t a “Jo” book, or a combination of the three.

“Tell us about the new characters”

The main story revolves around Albus (Harry’s younger son) and Scorpius (Draco’s only son) who, surprisingly, become friends.  Rose (Ron and Hermione’s daughter) read a bit like a hardcore, slightly more uppity version of Hermione.  There is also another new character named Delphi who becomes friends with the two main lads.

“Which familiar characters make an appearance?”

Harry, obviously, who is now the Head of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic.  Hermione, who is now the Minister for Magic.  Ron, who now runs Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.  Ginny, who now edits the sports pages of the Daily Prophet.  Professor McGonagall (hooray!) who is Headmistress of Hogwarts.  Bane, the centaur (who is still a complete asshat). The trolley witch from the Hogwarts Express.  Dumbledore (in painted form).  Then….*possible spoilers here*…Amos Diggory (Cedric’s father), Severus Snape and Old Mouldy Shorts himself.

“Was it as great as you expected it to be?”

Sadly, no.

I certainly didn’t hate it.  But I definitely didn’t love it, or even get anywhere near as excited as I did about the any of the previous books.

After putting the book down, apart from thinking, “Well, that was a reasonably entertaining way to spend a few hours!” the story made no impression on me whatsoever.  After having reflected on it for a day, I really wonder why JK allowed this to go out as the eighth story because absolutely nothing important happens.  There is no Wow! factor in either the characters or the action.  Nothing significant is revealed or undertaken.  It would probably be an exciting play to watch, but in terms of plot, it’s fairly forgettable.  Not to mention a bit convoluted.  And more than a little ridiculous in places.

“What’s your problem, Bruce?  Are you seriously telling me there’s something wrong with this story?”  **Possible spoilers here!***

Not wrong, exactly, just….a bit boring and forgettable really.  Some of the magic was gone.  The charm.  The fun.  The ...MAGIC.

And some of the characters were….well, take Ron for instance.  Ron seemed to be included simply as comic relief.  I know in the earlier books he’s a bit goofy and bumbling at times, but in this book there doesn’t seem to be a line of dialogue where Ron isn’t making an inane comment.  This, it must be said, is probably quite disappointing for Ron fans.  Snape, who makes a brief appearance, was practically unrecognisable from his former incarnation, which was massively upsetting for me, as Snape is clearly the greatest character in the series by a country mile.  Even Hermione seemed a shadow of her former self.

And as for the new characters, Scorpius was …nice.  Kind.  Forgiving.  Funny. In reasonably good mental health.  With a reasonably good self-image.  I know kids can be different from their parents, but it seemed to me a bit of a stretch that Draco Malfoy, himself a traumatised child, would be able, in an atmosphere of post-war backlash, to manage to raise such a well-balanced child.

There were multiple times when I felt like I had somehow got a copy of the script for Back to the Future II bound up in my book, because a lot of the story seemed to be inspired by that very movie.  Don’t get me wrong, we Shelf denizens are MASSIVE B2tF fans from way back, but a HP/B2tF mashup is something I’ve never desired to see in the slightest.  I suppose I’m saying that some parts of the plot descended into the ridiculous and unlikely, which was more than a little disappointing because even though infused with magic, the events of the previous books always had the ring of authenticity (or at least purpose) about them.

“If they haven’t already, do you recommend that Potter fans snag a copy of this book?”

Yeeeeeeeeeeeees.  Yes. I think they probably should.  Simply to satisfy their own curiosity about it.

“So will you be snuggling this one on the shelf next to your hardback copies of the rest of the series?”

Erm.  No.  I don’t think I will.  In fact, I think I’m going to purge this one from my memory as soon as possible.  It didn’t pass muster for me, and actually taints the memories I have of characters from the previous books, so I have decided to become one of those annoying people who doesn’t accept bits of the story that they didn’t enjoy as canon.

“If you could sum up Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (etc, etc) in one sentence, what would you say?”

It is an entertaining way to spend a few hours on a lazy afternoon, but not in keeping with the depth of atmosphere, emotion and growth that was present in the prior books.

So there you have it.  I’m sorry if I have disappointed you by being disappointed with this latest HP offering, but I feel I must be true to my stony, only slightly magical heart.  Have you read this one yet?  Do you intend to?  If you have read it, what did you think? (No spoilers!).

Thanks again to Hachette Australia for providing us with a copy of the book for review.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Nevernight: A YA, Read-it-if Review…

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read it if NEW BUTTON

You might want to put aside any distractions before reading this review, because today’s book is one that will require your full attention.  Nevernight by Jay Kristoff is a new release YA (although probably closer to adult) fiction novel set in a whole new world that is worth diving into if you have the time to devote to it.  There’s a great deal of buzz around this book at the moment, and having finally finished it, we can see why it’s receiving such high praise.  We received our copy from HarperCollins Australia for review (thanks!) and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Destined to destroy empires Mia Covere is only ten years old when she is given her first lesson in death.

Six years later, the child raised in the shadows takes her first steps towards keeping the promise she made on the day that she lost everything.

But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, so if she is to have her revenge, Mia must become a weapon without equal. She must prove herself against the deadliest of friends and enemies, and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and demons at the heart of a murder cult.

The Red Church is no Hogwarts, but Mia is no ordinary student. The shadows loves her. And they drink her fear.

nevernight

Read it if:

*you loved Harry Potter but wished it could have had about 98% more throat-slitting action

*you loved Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom Trilogy but wished it could have had about 76% more throat-slitting action

*you can’t go past a book that features incredibly violent acts described in potently lyrical fashion

*you don’t mind lugging around a book whose size makes it equally suited to acting as a doorstop for a giant’s doggy door or clubbing baby seals to death

*you have been aching, yearning, praying for an upper YA (really, almost adult fiction) tale set in a wholly original world, featuring deeply explored characters, evocative and masterful prose and the promise of a trilogy that is worth waiting for

Two things I have to tell you about this book straight off are: (1) It’s a right old chunker at 643 pages and (2) while the writing was obviously of a high quality right from the very first page, this one was a slow-burn for us, but one that we warmed to more and more as time went on.  Initially, on seeing how big this book is, I didn’t think I’d be able to get through it in a reasonable amount of time given my review schedule, but the first few chapters are so lyrically written, with such a distinctive and engaging voice, that I was sucked in almost immediately.

The book is split into three parts.  The first deals mostly with Mia’s family history and the events that have led her to seeking a place in the Red Church – the guild (society? club? religion?) of murderers and assassins.  Straight off the bat there are some pretty explicit sex scenes and hardcore language, so I wouldn’t be passing this one on to any thirteen-year-olds unless they are of the particularly worldly variety.  The second part felt like nothing so much as a Hogwarts for murderers, and although it seems odd for such graphic content, the middle of the book really did exude an undercurrent of every “boarding school” story ever written (although with far less ginger beer and midnight feasts).  I was definitely far more engaged during this part of the story, but it was also during this section that I started to lose hope that I would ever finish.

So I put the book down.  Faced with the pressures to finish such a massive tome, I crumbled and nearly decided to abandon it, despite my enjoyment of the story.

But then….then my friends, fate threw me a line.

I somehow managed to find some uninterrupted reading time and decided to plough on with Nevernight until I finished (or died in the attempt).  And it was in doing so, that I really found an attachment to the story and the characters.

By the third part of the story, there have been so many killings that it’s a wonder anyone is left in the Red Church at all.  In fact, if you removed every mention of a slit throat, stabbed chest, or other flesh wound, I am certain that this book would come in at under 200 pages.  Regardless, the action takes a dramatic upswing in this final chapter as twists abound and all that we thought was a given is swooshed around and turned on its head.  Given the originality of the world here, I couldn’t really predict what might happen in the end anyway, but still I was surprised by the ending.  The final section of the book reminded me strongly of Garth Nix’s Lirael (the second of the Old Kingdom Trilogy and my favourite of the three), as Mia and Lirael’s stories resonated in certain parts and I found myself becoming far more sympathetic to Mia’s character.

Nevernight is definitely the kind of book that deserves undivided attention.   Once I found some time to devote solely to immersing myself in the story, my enjoyment in it doubled, so I would suggest if you are going to pick it up, to make it your “one and only” book until you’ve finished it.  The writing and world-building are hugely original and are best appreciated when given time to percolate through your brain.  While none of the characters are saints (nor claim to be), they are the most memorable bunch of cold-blooded murderers you could ever hope not to meet and I recommend delving into their story.

I can’t even imagine how the next two books in the series will pan out.

Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal (and a giveaway!): Little Mouse…

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Today’s picture book is a celebration of the vagaries of parenthood, kindly provided to us by new children’s imprint Scribble Publications for review. There’s also a giveaway for Aussie residents at the end of our review, so don’t forget to enter!  Little Mouse by Riika Jantti takes the reader gently by the paw and leads them through a typical day in the life of a parent-caregiver and pre-school aged tot. Here’s the blurb from Scribble:

A day in the life of a toddler is a busy one — as all parents know — and Little Mouse’s day is no exception. Between getting dressed, going to childcare, eating dinner, and making time for splashing in puddles, Little Mouse has a lot to do … and a lot to say ‘no’ to!

This warm and humorous picture book from well-loved Finnish author/illustrator Riikka Jäntti introduces Little Mouse — a small kid with a big personality — who parents and childen will relate to instantly. In Little Mouse, everyday life combines with the wonder of early childhood to produce a captivating story that’s sure to become a read-aloud favourite.

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There is a quiet charm in this book, which springs entirely from the fact that it will be so  completely familiar to anyone who has ever had to look after a small child for any length of time.  Nothing particularly exciting or unexpected happens in the story – the plot merely follows the events of a typical day for a mother and child – but the cheeky illustrations and many inflections on the word “No!” provide a giggle.  This image from one of the page spreads has to get the prize for summing up the perpetual state of exasperation in which many care-givers find themselves when having to repeatedly ask a young child to complete perfectly reasonable tasks, such as putting on clothes and eating food:
little mouse page
Did you get that?  Here it is in close up:
mouse eyeroll
See, you’re already feeling for Mummy Mouse, aren’t you?
Aside from the exasperation, there are also many moments of simple joy throughout the book, as when Little Mouse gets to play with his friends, jump in a puddle or (blissfully) fall into bed at the end of the busy day.  The book has an old-fashioned appeal to it, with a simple story and multiple illustrations on each page that will help little ones to follow the events.
We would recommend Little Mouse for when you and your mini-fleshling need a story that is entirely free from modern trappings and revels in the simple pleasure of sharing everyday happenings with each other.

Scribble are generously offering TWO readers the chance to own their very own copies of Little Mouse.  To enter, just click on the rafflecopter link below.

*This giveaway is for Australian residents only*  

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce