Welcome to 2017! Now Join the Hunt…

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Welcome to a new year and a new chance to participate in a completely frivolous reading challenge!  Today’s post is just a quick one to make anyone who doesn’t know about it aware of the Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge 2017, which is being hosted by your very own Shelf-denizens!

You can find out more about the challenge here and have a gander (see what I did there?!) at all the lovely people who have already jumped on board.

For those who have already signed up, welcome (!), good luck (!) and the link-ups for each category are now available for your linking pleasure here.  These can also be accessed from the page headings at the top of the blog, under Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge Sign Up Page.

If you are super keen, you can also grab the button for the challenge to display on your own blog.  The code for this is in the sidebar.

Now, let us go forth in search of a cracking year of reading!

Until next time,

Bruce

Third Time’s A Charm: The Increasingly Transparent Girl (Tales from Between #3)

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There’s no greater joy, when reading a series, to find that subsequent books are just as good as the earlier ones.  So it is with indie author Matthew Stott’s middle grade fantasy series Tales from Between.  I stumbled upon this series at the Kindle store a few weeks back and was so enamoured of the first book in the series that I bought the next two, and so far none have disappointed me.  One of the great things about this series is that even though the books take place in the same fantasy world, each story stands on its own and so you can pick up any book and start where you like.  Here’s the blurb for the third book in the series, The Increasingly Transparent Girl, from Goodreads:

Things live between awake and asleep. In the moment after your eyes grow too heavy to stay open, but before the dreams take you.

One day, Melody May begins to disappear from view. Her hands, her knees, her face, her everything. A monster’s enchantment has ensnared her, and now Melody must travel across a strange and dangerous land between awake and asleep to reclaim herself; otherwise, in 48 short hours, she will never have existed at all…

The overall tone and events of this book more closely matched the lighter, more fantasy based adventures of A Monstrous Place, the first of the series, once again moving away from the darker, more psychological adventures of the second book, The Identical Boy.   Melody May’s story takes place mostly in Between, as she ventures forth on a quest to steal back her visible body from a creepy, reclusive, mountain-dwelling entity known as The Whistler.  Accompanying Meloday on her journey (ha! I’ve only just now noticed that the protagonist’s name, Melody, relates closely to the main manipulative mechanism of the monster – whistling!) is a helpful cat that appears beside her in Between and we are even treated to a return appearance from Mr Adams and Neil from the first story, who now dwell in Between seeking out adventure and generally putting down monstrous calamity.

The Increasingly Transparent Girl is very much a “journeying” story, a familiar trope in middle grade fantasy, with the whole plot based around Melody’s quest to reach the Whistler’s mountain and return home in one piece.  This gives first time readers a good chance to see a bit of Between, and returning readers the opportunity to meet some creative new inhabitants of the place – I loved the concept of Time Bats and was happy to see a repeat performance from the Tall Man, who is Lord of Between.

I am totally convinced by the quality of this series and can’t wait to see what the author comes up with next.  The best bit about these books is that none has been similar in plot to the previous ones, and so even though the world is the same there are new and intriguing elements to uncover in each book and each story feels fresh and different.  While I wait for the next release, I took the liberty of buying two of the author’s stories for adults – Sixty-Six and Apocalypse Hill – and can’t wait to see what scares this inventive author has cooked up for older readers.

Until next time,

Bruce

Scaling Mount TBR: My Name is Leon

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This one may have only been on my TBR list for six months, but by gum it feels good to knock it over anyway.  We received a copy of My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal from the publisher via Netgalley, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A brother chosen. A brother left behind. And the only way home is to find him.

Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas. But the adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing Pretend faces. They are threatening to take Jake away and give him to strangers. Because Jake is white and Leon is not.

As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile – like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum.

Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name is Leon is a story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how – just when we least expect it – we somehow manage to find our way home.

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There is a certain charm to books for adults that feature a child protagonist and My Name is Leon certainly exhibits that charm throughout.  Leon is an immediately likable lad, with his fierce loyalty to his mother despite her obvious flaws and unfathomable depth of love for his baby brother Jake.  His foster carers, Maureen and then Sylvia, are also lovable in different ways, while the folk from the allotment grow on the reader with every interaction.  The laid-back but determined Tufty steps in as a replacement father figure for Leon in some ways and while Mr Devlin has a few odd behaviours on the outside, he proves himself to be one who can be counted on in a pinch.

The main focus of the story of course, is Leon’s up-and-down life as he bounces between foster homes, loses his brother to adoption and waits for his mother to get his act together.  This alone would have been a rich vein to mine, but de Waal has also included a sideplot about race riots that, while relevant to Leon and his situation, seemed slightly out of place with the tone of the rest of the story.  Having said that, it does provide a rather exciting end to what could have otherwise been a reasonably predictable story arc!  I would have liked to see a bit of information about this part of the story in an author’s note – were the events based on actual events, and if so, where and when and in what social context did these happen?  If not, why were they included?

Overall, this is an uplifting story that shows the reality of many foster children’s lives today, even though it is set in the 1980s.  The story did feel a bit hefty at times, particularly in the middle, as Leon is developing his relationship with the folk of the allotments, but the richness of the relationships developed between the characters is a satisfying pay-off for this.

Until next time,

Bruce

Fiction in 50 December Challenge!

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It’s Fiction in 50 time for the final time in 2016 and our challenge prompt this month is….

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To play along, just create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words, post it, then pop a link to your post in the comments.  For more detailed information, just click on that attractive button at the top of this post.

As it’s the last challenge for the year, I’ve thrown caution to the wind and restraint out the window, and I haven’t bothered to keep to the word count.  Avant garde, I know.  Anyway, here’s my epic contribution, which I have titled (ironically)…

Quality Control

CreatorBeing sat beside his latest crafted soul.  It was his custom to do so before each soul was given physical form, as both a way of checking the quality of his creation and a way to pass some of the infinite store of time allotted to him, as CreatorBeing.

As CreatorBeing completed the final test, he whispered in the soul’s ear.

“Shall I tell you a secret about humanity?”

The soul looked up, wide-eyed.  

“Why yes, CreatorBeing! I would be honoured!”

CreatorBeing smiled benignly and began.  

“Above all things, humans are my most favoured creation.  Do you know why?”

The soul responded eagerly.

“Because we are made in your image, CreatorBeing?” 

CreatorBeing laughed.  

“Not just that, pure one!  It is because above all else, humans are to be counted on to behave in predictable ways.  Each and every generation of humans believes, with all its collective heart, that it alone has learned from the mistakes of the past, has harnessed the power of nature, has made the world the best it can possibly be.”

The soul nodded earnestly as CreatorBeing continued.

“Every single generation believes this is so.  Yet history continues to repeat itself, the earth is ever more abused and age-old problems continue to persist.”

The soul furrowed its brow and then, with a deep breath, turned proudly to CreatorBeing.

“I promise you, O Great One, that I will be different.  I will find the way to peace and prosperity and encourage others to do the same.  I will learn from the past and help create a better future.”

CreatorBeing nodded slowly, before exerting his will and sending the soul upon its earthly journey.  He allowed himself an indulgent chuckle.

Whatever else may be said about humanity, they remained his most consistent creation.  


I’d love to see what you have all come up with for this month’s prompt.  Prompts for the first half of 2017 are up already and you can view them here.  For January 2017 our prompt will be…

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Until next time,

Bruce

Fiction in 50 Reminder…and one more challenge…

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It’s nearly time for our final Fiction in 50 challenge for 2016!

This month our prompt will be….

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Something to get you thinking about all the holiday leftovers, perhaps?

To participate, all you need do is create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words, post it somewhere, then come back here on Monday and add your post link to the comments of my Fi50 post. For more information and for upcoming prompts, just click on the attractive button at the top of this post. New players are always welcome!


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Now I know I said I was only participating in four reading challenges for 2017,  I came across PopSugar’s 2017 reading challenge the other day and it just looks too fun to pass up.  I’m not going to plan ahead with this one, just tick them off as I come across them.

And that, I promise, is the very last reading challenge I will commit to for 2017.

Promise.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Aussie Classic Revisited: Stories from Stella Street…

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Stories from Stella Street by Elizabeth Honey. Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November 2016. RRP: $19.99

A long, hot Australian summer holiday needs a long, funny bout of escapist kidlit and to that end, I have for you not one, but three Aussie classic kids’ stories.  We received this bright and breezy (and big enough to use as a door stop!) 21st anniversary edition of Elizabeth Honey’s Stella Street stories.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s te blurb from their website:

Elizabeth Honey’s immensely popular 45 + 47 Stella Street and everything that happened turns 21! This special anniversary edition includes three exciting adventures in one big book: 45 + 47 Stella Street, Fiddle-back and The Ballad of Cauldron Bay.

CELEBRATING 21 YEARS OF STELLA STREET!

Meet Henni, the tallest girl in school, and her best friend Zev, with amazing electric hair, and Briquette, little Frank’s dog … and everyone else in Stella Street! Read Henni’s original version of what her gang did when the Phonies moved into their street and started to spoil everything! It’s fast and funny and you never know what’s going to happen next. Henni also tells the story of life-changing events when the Stella Street gang all went bush and camped by a wild river, and then how their perfect old-beach-house holiday in Cauldron Bay nearly ended in disaster.

Three hair-raising adventures in one chunky book!

Elizabeth Honey writes with the invigorating energy of a salty wind off the sea that wakes you up and makes you see the world afresh. Warm-hearted, funny, touching and wise, the Stella Street stories are about growing up and living life to the full.

Now, I can’t be sure whether or not I actually read these stories as a youngster – I’ve checked the dates and I would have been a little outside the target audience, but nonetheless, I did feel a tickle of familiarity as I meandered through the first book in this collection: 45 + 47 Stella Street and Everything That Happened.  This familiarity could be because I (a) did actually read this as a youngster but have forgotten or (b) it is so typical of its genre and target age for Australian books of the period that I feel like I know it even though I haven’t read it.
The first book in the collection was a delight to read.  Hanni has an appropriately conversational style for a young girl of the early nineties, bashing around the neighbourhood with her mates and prevailing upon God to deal out justice to the Phonies next door.  In the end of course, it’s Hanni and her gang – Zav, Frank and Danielle – who have to bring about justice against a pair of the worst kind of neighbours: rich, pompous and ready to complain at the drop of a hat.
One of the things I enjoyed about reading this is the lack of technology in the lives of the characters, both child and adult.  The Phonies are involved in a bit of a shady practice (I shan’t spoil it for you!) that nowadays would certainly require access to multiple devices, yet in this delightfully innocent tome the skulduggery is all paper-based.  Similarly, Hanni is writing a book – with a pencil and paper to begin with, and then a typewriter!  I wonder whether contemporary readers of what is now historical fiction would notice this in the text and what they might make of it.
The pace of the story is laconic, as indeed most Aussie stories should be, punctuated with flurries of activity.  Stella Street itself is so delightfully rendered by the author that it is the kind of street anyone would give their eye-teeth to live in.  Filled with friendly neighbours (barring the Phonies, of course) and kids that band together to make their own fun, it’s the kind of place that forms the dream of a perfect childhood.
I only got through the first book in the collection before this review.  I do intend to read the others – Fiddleback and The Ballad of Cauldron Bay – if only because Hanni is such an engaging voice.  If you enjoy a good Aussie yarn or would love to introduce your mini-fleshlings to the kind of life kids might have had before the internet was in every pocket, Stories from Stella Street would be a fantastic place to start.
Until next time,
Bruce

Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop (in Summer!) 2016…

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Welcome to my sunny, summery stop on the Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop hosted by Bookhounds.net and running from the 21st to the 31st of December, 2016.  I’m getting into the spirit of midwinter and offering one winner a winter-themed book of their choice from the selection below.  My giveaway is open internationally, provided the Book Depository ships to your country for free.  Other Ts & Cs are in the Rafflecopter form.

One winner will have their choice of one of the following wintry books.  Click on the book cover to visit the book’s Goodreads page:

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To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter link below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And remember, this is a hop, so why not visit some of the other participating blogs and try your luck?  Click on the links below to hop around:

Powered by Linky Tools

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

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal: My Valley

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I’ve got a picture book translated from the original French for you today.  My Valley by celebrated French children’s author Claude Ponti is due to be published in English, translated by Alyson Waters, in March 2017.  We received a copy for review from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In My Valley, Claude Ponti leads us on a journey through an enchanted world inhabited by “Touims” (tiny, adorable, monkey-like creatures), secret tree dwellings, flying buildings, and sad giants. Clever language and beautifully detailed maps of imaginary landscapes will delight children and adults alike. Ponti himself has said, “My stories are like fairytales, always situated in the marvelous, speaking to the interior life and emotions of children. That way each child can get what they want out of the images: the characters and dreams are their own.”

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Long-time readers of this blog will know that my relationship with French books translated into English is sketchy at best.  I’ve come across a few books in this category that I have thoroughly enjoyed, but for some reason, many others I haven’t.  Unfortunately, this was one of the latter.  It’s not a bad book by any means, just one in which I could not find a point of purchase from which to engage with the story.

The book is aimed at around about the 6 to 10 age group, with large pictures surrounded by short paragraphs of text.  There is no coherent overall story, per se, but rather a collection of related passages that take place within a magical, ethereal, woodlandish world.  The Valley is populated by Twims, little furry creatures that pass the time in various unlikely and whimsical ways, as well as giants and other fantastical creatures.  As there was no linear storyline in the book, I found it hard to stay interested in what was going on because it was episodic in nature, with new characters being introduced only to disappear when others arrive.

The illustrations didn’t do a lot for me, but they were undoubtedly the highlight of the book regardless.  The images take centre stage, covering page spreads or appearing beside blocks of text to give a bit of life to the story.

I’d have to say that this book just wasn’t my cup of tea – but that’s not to say it won’t be a hit with a mini-fleshling of your acquaintance, provided they have a good imagination and find joy in whimsical and original fantasy worlds.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: The Snow Rose…

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If you are looking for something to keep you occupied over the Christmas break – either cosied up in front of a roaring fire or barricaded in an air-conditioned room – then today’s book is definitely one to consider.  I wasn’t sure that I was going to love this one because it’s not my usual sort of adult fiction, but The Snow Rose by Lulu Taylor, which we received for review from PanMacmillan Australia, sucked me in hook, line and sinker.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Kate is on the run with her daughter, her identity hidden and her destination unknown to her husband and family. She’s found a place where she and Heather can be alone and safe, a huge old house full of empty rooms. But it turns out she’s not alone. There are the strange old ladies in the cottage next door, Matty and her blind sister Sissy. How long can Kate hide Heather’s presence from them? And then the newcomers arrive, the band of eccentrics led by the charming and charismatic Archer. Kate begins to realize that she is involved in something strange and dangerous, and the past she’s so desperate to escape is about to find her . . .

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Read it if:

*you are a fan of stories that seamlessly blend contemporary and historical fiction in a twisty, intertwined way

*the idea of running away to a beautiful old isolated house sounds like paradise when adulting becomes all too much

*you prefer to organise your holiday accommodation through mysterious, untraceable companies offering employment to single ladies

*the likelihood of you being manipulated by a swindler is directly proportional to the youth, attractiveness, wealth and charisma of said swindler

What an absorbing book I found this to be!  The story turned out to be little of what I expected, but better than my expectations nonetheless.  The first thing you should know about The Snow Rose is that it is not one story, but two (possibly even three, depending on how you look at it) related but separate stories.  The first plotline features Kate, who has run away with her daughter for reasons that are only hinted at in the beginning, but become clear further down the track.  The second, related, storyline features past residents of the house, whose experience appears to be repeating itself with its new residents.  As well as those two main storylines, there are also segues into moments in the present that look to be history repeating, and some focus on the people that Kate left behind when she left.  All in all, this isn’t a basic relationship/finding-oneself type novel, as I expected it might be, but a complex, intricately woven combination of historical fiction and contemporary fiction with a hint of speculative fiction and the briefest of nods toward the paranormal thrown in.

The thing that I found most appealing about The Snow Rose was the fact that Kate, as the main character, seemed to be constantly evolving in her understanding of her bizarre situation and how it came to pass.  At no point was I able to predict how her story would turn out because she is, in some senses, unreliable in her insight into her motivations and the outcomes that she is chasing.  The old ladies that she meets while caretaking at the Big House, Sissy and Matty, provide a balance to Kate’s chaotic situation but also throw in new factors to complicate matters – Are they who they say they are?  What do they actually know about the house’s history?  Can they help Kate find her feet?

I loved the historical sections of the book.  Apart from being an abrupt change of pace from the contemporary sections featuring Kate, the characters in the historical section were so vivid and the events so surprising that I was happy to keep coming back to this time period to see what might happen next.  Like Kate, the main character in the historical plot line, Letty, is also going through some turbulent personal growth.

I suppose there may be some readers of this story who dislike the more bizarre, unexpected elements of it, given that these elements are quite unlikely, but these are exactly what lifted the story above your typical tortured soul story in my view. Kate’s story isn’t predictable.  It is quite unlikely.  There are elements throughout that will have the reader questioning what is real and what is not.  And it’s these characteristics that had me totally absorbed in the lives of the characters.

I’d highly recommend this for readers who want to lose themselves in someone else’s life, because in the coiling plotlines of The Snow Rose, there is plenty of opportunity to do so.

Until next time,

Bruce