Return to Augie Hobble: Theme Parks, Creative Arts and Life in a Wolf Suit…

2

augie hobble

If you are tired of the typical tropes, lackadaisical layouts and predictable plotting of standard middle grade reads, Return to Augie Hobble by Lane Smith will be a breath of fresh air.  We received a copy from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Augie Hobble lives in a fairy tale—or at least Fairy Tale Place, the down-on-its-luck amusement park managed by his father. Yet his life is turning into a nightmare: he’s failed creative arts and has to take summer school, the girl he has a crush on won’t acknowledge him, and Hogg Wills and the school bullies won’t leave him alone. Worse, a succession of mysterious, possibly paranormal, events have him convinced that he’s turning into a werewolf. At least Augie has his notebook and his best friend Britt to confide in—until the unthinkable happens and Augie’s life is turned upside down, and those mysterious, possibly paranormal, events take on a different meaning.

Return to Augie Hobble was a package of unpredictability from start to finish.  Augie lives in a reasonably crappy amusement park based on a fairy tale theme and spends his summer sweeping up after guests and being picked on by bored teenage pranksters.  In his downtime, he and his best friend Britt escape to their fort in the woods and attempt to create a Creative Arts project that will get Augie a passing grade.  When Britt leaves on holiday and Augie has a strange encounter with someone in a wolf suit (or is it?), Augie’s life takes a turn for the weird…er.

This book is a bit of a cross between a graphic novel and an ordinary novel, as it is heavily illustrated throughout.  Along with the actual story the reader is privy to Augie’s multiple attempts to create a passable project for his summer school Creative Arts class and these range from cartoons to illustrated stories to photographs.  We also get to see some particularly …. unexpected …scribblings that appear in the notebook.  I use the word “appear” because Augie can’t explain how they got there…although he has a rather shrewd idea.

I won’t try to describe the plot of this story to you because it is twistier than a spring caught in an automated twisting machine – just when you think you can guess where the story’s going – phwip! – something completely unexpected pops up to change things around.  By the end of the book you’ll have vicariously experienced lycanthropism, theft, ghost activity, a genuine cowboy horse chase, gypsy prophesying, time-lapse photography, poltergeisting for the win, agents working on a government conspiracy and festive decorating.  By about two thirds of the way through the book I did feel that I had lost the thread a little because the plot was changing so quickly, but the writing is full of humour (some of it quite dark) and Augie is so relatable that I was willing to forgive a bit of disjointedness in the plot itself.

Presentation wise, this book will definitely appeal to young readers.  The cover design is engaging and the sheer volume of illustrations throughout break up the text beautifully, giving readers of all abilities a chance to evade the monotony of black-on-white text.  I’m not sure that the story will appeal to everyone – it has a unique mix of silliness and seriousness that I don’t think I’ve come across before – but if you are a fan of quirky humour and unbelievable situations then you will definitely appreciate Smith’s style.

Until next time,

Bruce

Meandering Through Middle Grade: The Blue Cat…

0

meandering-through-middle-grade

It’s another book set in World War 2 today, this time set in Australia (and I’ve got ANOTHER World War 2 story for you next week – it must be something in the air), and this time aimed at a middle grade audience.  We received The Blue Cat by prolific Australian author Ursula Dubosarsky from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A boy stood in the playground under the big fig tree. ‘He can’t speak English,’ the children whispered.

Sydney, 1942. The war is coming to Australia – not only with the threat of bombardment, but also the arrival of refugees from Europe. Dreamy Columba’s world is growing larger. She is drawn to Ellery, the little boy from far away, and, together with her highly practical best friend Hilda, the three children embark on an adventure through the harbour-side streets – a journey of discovery and terror, in pursuit of the mysterious blue cat …

the blue cat

The Blue Cat is told from the point of view of Columba, a young girl whose world is slowly being encroached upon by the war.  Everything that her headmaster assures the children could never possibly happen, seems to be coming about.  Her friend’s brothers are stuck as prisoners of war.  Air raid sirens interrupt otherwise lazy afternoons.  The spectre of lost mothers and lost homes looms large in the figure of Ellery, a German boy who has come to attend Columba’s school.

There is certainly an atmosphere of anticipation seeping through this novel and I was constantly poised for some significant action to take place.  Rather, the story unfolds gently through Columba’s interactions with her brash, larger-than-life friend Hilda and the silent Ellery.

Atmospheric as Dubosarsky’s writing may be, I couldn’t help but feel there was something missing from this book.  The first candidate for the MIA label is the titular cat – he makes the briefest of brief appearances and doesn’t seem, as the blurb suggests, to be keeping any secrets at all. Rather, he seems to be acting like an ordinary cat: flighty, unpredictable and completely indifferent as to whether humans pay attention to him or not.

The second thing I felt that was missing here was some significant event to provide a point around which Columba or one of the other characters could experience some growth or change or…something.  Columba, as a narrator, is more of a bystander than an agent in her own life and while there are plenty of us who live through certain historical events without having them touch us in a significant way, I’m not sure that this perspective is the most effective upon which to base a protagonist.

One thing I did love about the book was the inclusion of primary source materials.  Instead of illustrations, every few pages a newspaper article, photograph or advertisement from the time pops up and I found these far more interesting and engaging than the actual story.  I also adored the poem by Friedrich Ruckert that was included (with a translation from the original German) as an afterword.

As I mentioned before, I spent the whole book waiting for something to happen and then…it just finished.  There is a certain amount of pathos in Columba’s growing understanding of loss and change, but I’m not sure that young readers would necessarily pick up on the subtleties of this.  I finished the book not hating it, but wondering why I had bothered, because none of the characters seemed to have undergone any significant change in outlook or personality by the end of the story.  It just felt like a way of passing the time.

I’m going to submit this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge under category #10, a book with a cat on the cover.  You can check out my progress toward the challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Escaping to the Country Ain’t What It’s Cracked Up To Be: Abigale Hall….

1

abigale hall

It seems to be the week for World War II stories, as we had one yesterday, we’ve got one today and there’ll be another tomorrow – at least no one can say I don’t do my bit for fans of historical fiction!  We received a copy of Abigale Hall by Lauren A. Forry for review from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Amid the terror the Blitz in the Second World War, seventeen-year-old Eliza and her troubled little sister Rebecca have had their share of tragedy, losing their mother to German bombs and their father to suicide. But when they are forced to leave London to work for the mysterious Mr. Brownawell at Abigale Hall, they find the worst is yet to come.

The vicious housekeeper, Mrs. Pollard, seems hell-bent on keeping the ghostly secrets of the house away from the sisters and forbids them from entering the surrounding town—and from the rumors that circulate about Abigale Hall. When Eliza uncovers some blood-splattered books, ominous photographs, and portraits of a mysterious woman, she begins to unravel the mysteries of the house, but with Rebecca falling under Mrs. Pollard’s spell, she must act quickly to save her sister, and herself, from certain doom.

Perfect for readers who hunger for the strange, Abigale Hall is an atmospheric debut novel where the threat of death looms just beyond the edge of every page. Lauren A. Forry has created a historical ghost story where the setting is as alive as the characters who inhabit it and a resonant family drama of trust, loyalty, and salvation.

First up, this book felt like a much longer read than its 256 pages.  I felt like I was reading for ever and ever and getting sucked deeper and deeper into the lives of the characters and the mire in which they find themselves.  In terms of bang for your reading buck, Forry has packed an incredible amount of plot into a standard amount of pages.

We first meet Eliza and her younger sister Rebecca while they are in the custody of their Aunt Bess, after the death of their mother in the Blitz and the suicide of their father.  Aunt Bess isn’t the warmest of mother-figures and life for the girls is unpleasant in London, despite the fact that their immediate needs are more or less met.  Eliza enjoys her work at a theatre and is hoping that her beau, Peter, will cement their relationship by popping the question without too much delay.

All this changes when Aunt Bess announces that the girls are to be shipped off to work as housemaids at Abigale Hall, a country house in Wales.  Without so much as a by-your-leave, the girls are manhandled out of their Aunt’s flat and away to the middle of nowhere to be left at the mercy of the unrelenting Mrs Pollard and the nightmarish spectre of Mr Brownawell.  The girls’ tenure at the house is filled with secrets, rumours from the villagers about curses and missing girls, and the marked absence of the Lord of the manor.   Things are not as they appear at Abigale Hall – and they appear pretty grim indeed – and it is clear to Eliza that the longer they stay, the worse the impact will be on Rebecca’s tenuous mental health.

The story is told from the perspective of Eliza and later on, Peter, as he tries to track down Eliza herself as well as another missing girl from their workplace.  The narrative flicks between the paranormal, skin-crawling atmosphere of Abigale Hall and the far  more banal dangers of post-blitz London and its seedy underbelly.  Throughout the story Eliza is never quite sure who she can trust and is torn between securing her own safety and remaining a dutiful and loyal sister.

I must warn the sensitive reader that there is a bit of animal cruelty in the story as well as a collection of incidents that will make you say, “Ick!” mentally, if not aloud.  I quite enjoyed the looming unease of the parts of the story set in the house.  These were neatly balanced by Peter’s sections of the story and this stopped the story becoming too paranormal or too mundane at any given point.  The plot, taken in its entirety, is full of twists, turns and unexpected revelations that spin the reader’s train of thought and switch the trajectory of the characters at every turn.

The ending was remarkably satisfying to me as well…but then I’ve always been one to enjoy the downfall of characters who feel like they should get a swift clip around the ear.

This would be a great choice for a holiday read if you’re looking for something a bit creepy and complicated with a historical setting.

Until next time,

Bruce

YAhoo! It’s a YA Review: Wonderful Feels Like This…

2

yahoo-button

Now if you’re one of those people who roll their eyes when they hear YA slapped in front of a contemporary novel, you can happily give your eyes a rest today because Wonderful Feels Like This by Swedish author Sara Lovestam could quite easily be classed as adult fiction given the fact that one of the main characters is an octogenarian.  Also, it’s about historical jazz music.  And World War II.

We received a copy of Wonderful Feels Like This from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A celebration of being a little bit odd, finding your people and the power of music to connect us.

For Steffi, going to school everyday is an exercise in survival. She’s never fit in with any of the groups at school, and she’s viciously teased by the other girls in her class. The only way she escapes is through her music–especially jazz music.

When Steffi hears her favourite jazz song playing through an open window of a retirement home on her walk home from school, she decides to go in and introduce herself. The old man playing her favorite song is Alvar. When Alvar was a teenager in World War II Sweden, he dreamed of being in a real jazz band. Then and now, Alvar’s escape is music–especially jazz music.

Through their unconventional friendship, Steffi comes to realise that she won’t always feel alone. She can go to music school in Stockholm. She can be a real musician. She can be a jitterbug, just like Alvar.

But how can Steffi convince her parents to let her go to Stockholm to audition? And how is it that Steffi’s school, the retirement home, the music and even Steffi’s worst bully are somehow all connected to Alvar? Can it be that the people least like us are the ones we need to help us tell our own stories?

wonderful feels like this

Wonderful Feels Like This is a delightful blend of historical fiction and contemporary coming of age story.  Steffi, in grade nine at the local school, is bullied relentlessly by her peers and has no friends to speak of.  Alvar, an octogenarian in an old folk’s home located on the route of Steffi’s walk home, is a musician whose body may be frail but whose heart and mind have never lost their passion for jazz.  When Steffi stops to chat to Alvar after hearing 1940s jazz music wafting out his window, it is the beginning of a friendship that will change both their lives and cement the bond that began with a few bars of swing.

What an intriguing read this book is!  Firstly, it’s set in Sweden – a country that I know very little about, barring IKEA and…IKEA. Oh, and ABBA.  Secondly, it’s told from alternating historical perspectives – Steffi and Alvar in the present and Alvar as a young man in 1940s Stockholm, overshadowed by the war.  I loved the information that was woven in about the political situation of Sweden and its neighbours during World War II because (a) I’m a big nerd and (b) I’ve never encountered a WWII story told from this perspective before so it was great to add to my general knowledge here.  Finally, the characters are beautifully authentic and the author hasn’t resorted to YA tropes in Steffi’s sections of the story, as could so easily have been the case given the theme of bullying.  Steffi is given equal footing with Alvar as a rounded, developed person, rather than reduced to a teen girl with certain musical hobbies and a low social standing.

Steffi’s biggest tormentors, Karro and Sanja, are merciless in their harassment, never shying away from an opportunity – be it in person or online – to denigrate Steffi and spit vitriol and humiliation in her general direction. Steffi’s lack of friends her own age lends a certain sadness to the atmosphere of her parts of the story, although it is obvious that she is determined to remain faithful to her passions and dreams for her future, in spite of the unprovoked persecution that is constantly heaped upon her.

Alvar, appearing to the reader simultaneously as a bright light of the rest home and a nervous, uncertain young man making his way in a big city in a time of social upheaval, provides the anchor for Steffi’s unsettled school experiences.  Through Alvar’s narration of his youth, Steffi begins to draw strength and confidence and understands that the path to success rarely runs smooth.

I loved that the author left the bullying element of Steffi’s story fairly unresolved.  This felt particularly authentic to me because in many people’s experience, there is no intervention or specific incident that causes the bullying to stop, rather circumstances, or physical distance mean that access to the victim by the bully is somehow cut off. This seems to be the case at the end of the book and although it’s possible – likely even – that Steffi’s tormentors may have continued their harassment after the end of the story that we see here, there is hope for Steffi and the promise of new and true friends.

In fact, one of my favourite parts of the book comes in the last paragraph of the author’s acknowledgements, where Lovestam writes:

Thank you, children and teenagers, sitting in schools all over the world, thinking about chords, shading, pi, medieval aesthetics, adverbs, metaphysics, Neanderthals, lace-making, chromatics,  and making flambes, instead of letting schoolyard pecking orders get to you.  Your time will come.

That is essentially what this story is about: having one’s time and following one’s passion – the precursor to it, the attainment of it, the living through it and the satisfied reflection on it after a life well-lived.

I’ll be submitting this book for the Popsugar Challenge under category #26: a book by an author from a country you’ve never visited.  Sweden (and Scandinavia generally, you’re on the bucket list).  You can check out my progress toward my reading challenges for 2017 here.

Until next time,

Bruce

TBR Friday: The Filth Licker

1

TBR Friday

Aaaaand next up in my climb up the Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2017 is book two in Cristy Burne’s Takeshita Demons series, The Filth Licker.  I finished the first book of the series back in February and since I’m being crushed under the weight of my review pile at the moment, I really needed a quick read to keep up the momentum for this challenge.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Miku is going to School Camp in the forest, with her friend Cait and the rest of her class. It should be fun. But Miku has premonitions of danger, and when Oscar goes down with a festering rash, and a rushing wind blows out the bonfire she’s sure something bad is going on. Then Alex finds the frog-like Filth-Licker in the boys’ toilets, and all at once Miku, Cait and Alex are on a secret mission to overcome the vengeful Shape-Shifters or Super Demons before it’s too late…

Later that night, with Alex kidnapped by a pyromaniac fox, and Cait possessed by some angry sickle weasels, it’s up to Miku and the Filth-Licker to save them all from disaster.

filth licker

Ten Second Synopsis:
Miku, Clair and their class are going on school camp – but Clair seems absentminded, to say the least, and before the class even gets to the camp one of Miku’s classmates has been preyed upon by a Yokai. When the camp leader suggests telling ghost stories around the fire, Miku knows that they are risking the Hyaku Monogatari – an ancient ritual that creates a super-demon.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

A year, roughly

Acquired:

I picked up the first three in this series from the Library Cast-offs bookshop at Nundah, because they featured Yokai and I hadn’t heard of them before.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

A misguided belief that I would have to read all three in the series one after the other.

Best Bits:

  • The Filth Licker featured far more yokai than the first book in the series, with everything from the titular Licker, to weasels with sickles for hands, an invisible set of footsteps that just wants you to get out of his road and a devious, tofu-wielding monk. This one was so packed with yokai that it was a little hard to keep track of who was working with or for whom, and who had or hadn’t taken over which character’s body/thoughts/memory.
  • There is a lot of action in the second half of the book as the three protagonists head into the forest and are chased, kidnapped, set on fire, frozen and generally given the run around by various nefarious spirits.
  • I really like the idea of a Filth Licker demon (I’ve come across it before in other books – particularly Kathryn Tanquary’s The Night Parade – and the one in this story is just adorable.
  • I’m still enjoying coming across inexplicable spirits, like the tofu monk.  These little insights into yokai culture make me want to bust out my Yokai encyclopedia and dive on in.  It’s sitting on my TBR shelf waiting, in case you’re wondering.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • This story was lacking the creepy atmosphere of the first book, and seemed to focus on the action scenes rather than developing any sense of suspense.
  • Much was made early on of Cait’s loss of memory and mood swings and I thought this was going to be more of a focus than it actually became.
  • We still don’t really know much about Miku’s inheritance of her powers.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

I’m still glad I bought all three at once, because otherwise I would be umming and ahhing about whether to get the third one since I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first.

Where to now for this tome?

To the permanent shelf.  One more to go in the series!

I feel like I’ve lost a bit of momentum this month with my TBR challenge.  I have a massive stack of books that I have to get through for April and the stack seems to be getting higher rather than lower unfortunately.  I’m going to aim to knock over Greenglass House next month.  Even though it’s quite a thick book I’ve been waiting literally years to read it, so I’ve made the decision that it is time to get to it.

Check out my progress toward the Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2017 here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round Up: Music school, Stranded Cows and Grub to be Grateful for…

0

image

We’re only in for a short ride today, with three new release picture books all received for review from Allen & Unwin.  Let’s strike while the iron is hot and ride on in!

Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too (Jane Milton & Deborah Hinde)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

moo and moo

Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too by Jane Milton and Deborah Hinde.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 29th March 2017.  RRP:$17.99

In the November 2016 earthquake in New Zealand, two cows and a calf ended up stranded on a tiny bit of land.  What was this new situation in which the cows found themselves and how could they get out of it?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a cute and heartwarming story about animals in predicaments; specifically, three animals in one very large predicament.  Children from New Zealand will no doubt take to this book with great fervour, given that they no doubt heard it on the news when it actually happened.  For the rest of us, there is a handy little paragraph at the back of the book describing the events on which the book is based, as well as some facts about earthquakes.  The story is told in rhyme which, although a tad forced at times, keeps a good rhythm for reading aloud.  The illustrations are all double page spreads with a subtle palette of blues, greens and browns.  The author has done a good job of giving imaginative voice to the cows as they stand stranded on their grass island, awaiting rescue or whatever happens next for stranded bovines.  Overall this is a sweet story that provides a perfect conversation starter for discussing natural disasters and their impact on the environment.

Brand it with:

bovine bravery; animals in predicaments; earthquake aftermath

The Thank You Dish (Trace Balla)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

thank you dish

The Thank You Dish by Trace Balla.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 29th March, 2017.  RRP:$ 19.99

A girl and her mother sit down for dinner and decide to give thanks.  But who would have thought there were so many people to thank for a simple meal?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a delightful and authentic missive that gently introduces the concept of gratefulness and being mindful of how many people contribute to things we might take for granted.  The illustrations are so charming here, with simple line drawings complemented by an earthy colour scheme.  I particularly like how the empty dinner table becomes fuller with each “thanks” given, as little stick drawings of the various “thankees” begin to populate the table.  The text is simple and repetitive and I wouldn’t be surprised if young readers carry the line, “Why would you thank the …….?” outside of the context of the text! The small size of the hardback means it would be perfect to bring to the dinner table or picnic blanket to share before a meal.  The Thank You Dish is a perfect gem of a book, reminding us of the need to be thankful for what we have without being preachy or labouring the point.

Brand it with:

anti-fast food; think before you eat; fun with food

The School of Music (Meurig and Rachel Bowen & Daniel Frost

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

school of music

The School of Music by Meurig and Rachel Bowen & Daniel Frost.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 29th March 2017.  RRP: $29.99

Ever wondered how to decide which instrument is right for you, what links maths and music or how you can compose your own music? Step inside The School of Music and satisfy your curiosity!

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you ever had lingering questions about music, musical instruments or how musicians work together, this is the book for you!  On flicking through the book, my first thought was that this would make a perfect launching text for primary teachers who are forced to teach music curriculum in the classroom (in the absence of a specialist music teacher at their school) and don’t feel they have the background knowledge to do so.  Although this is an illustrated nonfiction text, I would definitely place it as an upper primary/lower secondary text, simply due to the amount of text and the length of the book.  The book begins with an illustrated “acceptance letter” to the school of music, upon which the owner of the book can write their name and is henceforth divided into “terms” based around different concepts.  Each page features a different question – What does it take to make a star singer? What different kinds of music are there? Which instruments do we recommend learning? – that is answered in the text below, accompanied by a full page background illustration in cartoonish art deco style.  The questions become increasingly more involved as the book progresses, and it would take a considerable time for a young reader to get through the whole book, if they were so inclined as to read it from cover to cover.  As a reference book, or a gift for a young musical prodigy, this would be a great choice.

Brand it with:

extracurricular activities; a curious composition; taking notes

I think The Thank You Dish was my favourite out of these three.  Have you come across any of these or do you know someone who might like them?

Until next time,

Bruce

Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Superhero Sikhs, Robot Soldiers, Creative Crabs and an Oddbod Afterlife…

1

gabbing-about-graphic-novels

I’ve got four graphic novels for you today mostly for the grownups, but with one helping of YA/upper middle grade fare.  I received all of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley for review.  Let’s get gabbing!

Super Sikh (Vol 1) by Eileen Kaur Alden, Supreet Singh Manchanda, Amit Tayal & Pradeep Sherawat

super sikh

From Goodreads:

Deep Singh aka “Super Sikh” is the world’s first modern Sikh superhero comic book. Geared toward both young adults and the young at heart, Super Sikh Comics is a not-for-profit venture supporting global literacy programs and diversity in media.

In “Super Sikh”, secret agent Deep Singh is overworked and exhausted from destroying the Taliban at night and maintaining a cover job by day. He’s a big Elvis fan, and he decides to take his dream vacation to visit Graceland (Elvis’s home). Unfortunately, a crazy Taliban group decides to follow him to America and get rid of him once and for all. But Deep Singh and his team are not going down without a fight!

Target Age Range: 

YA and adult

Genre:

Superhero, secret agents, action

Art Style:

Classic superhero realism

Reading time:

This was a short, volume 1 sampler so it only took me about five minutes to get through

Let’s get gabbing:

It took me a page or two to figure out what the go was with this story, but I’m happy to report that it got funnier the further into the story I got.  There is plenty of tongue in cheek humour here and all the secret agent tropes that you would expect, with a Sikh twist.  I particularly enjoyed the scenes in which Deep is given his new gadgets for his mission (a holiday), which included a kara (the silver bracelet that Sikhs wear) that deflects bullets!  Towards the end of this sampler, poor old Deep is unfortunate enough to be on a plane to the US when it is hijacked by Mexican terrorists and of course, nobody believes that he’s trying to save the day – he’s wearing a turban after all – and he ends up incarcerated.

Overall snapshot:

I would love to see future installments in this adventure as this sample has bucketloads of potential, truckloads of subtle, subversive humour and is doing a great service to diversity in literature.

Rust: The Boy Soldier by Royden Lepp

rust

From Goodreads:

Made to look like a boy but built for battle, Jet Jones is a robot caught in the middle of an ongoing war. While trying to save as many people as he can, Jet discovers there is more to who he is and what he was made for than he could have ever imagined. His experiences in the war set him off on a journey to learn what it means to both hero and human. It is the first adventure of many for the rocket boy.

Written and illustrated by Royden Lepp, Rust: The Boy Soldier collects the previously released prologues from the first three volumes of the critically acclaimed series Rust along with the yet to be released prologue from the upcoming fourth and final installment. Together for the first time and in an all new reading order, Rust: The Boy Soldier is the complete story of Jet Jones’s time in war and the beginning of this high octane, all ages adventure.

Target Age Range: 

YA and adult

Genre:

Sci fi, war

Art Style:

Cartoon realism – dark colour palette

Reading time:

At 128 pages, but with little text, this was quite quick to get through – about ten minutes

Let’s get gabbing:

The ending of this prologue was probably the best part of it for me – in that the last few pages really piqued my interest in Jet’s future amongst humans.  The prologue itself is mostly scenes of war, in which we are introduced to Jet, a robot soldier who has incredible powers to kill and destroy but is also capable of choosing his own path.  The prologue is mostly artwork with little text, and so it was a bit tricky to get a rounded idea of what’s going on in Jet’s early world.  It’s obvious that there is a war going on, fought by both robot and human soldiers, and at some point Jet becomes unhappy with his killing capabilities, deciding instead to pursue a different way of life.  The sepia colour palette reflects the dreary, dangerous frontlines of the war and gives the overall feel of a steampunk atmosphere.

Overall snapshot:

I would like to see the second volume of Jet’s story before making a decision on whether this graphic novel is my type of read.  Having only seen the first part of Jet’s life, which centred around war, I don’t feel like I’ve got a full appreciation for what this series is going to be about.

The March of the Crabs by Arthur de Pins

march of the crabs

From Goodreads:

All species in the world evolve…except one. Cancer Simplicimus Vulgaris, or the square crab, has suffered with the same evolutionary defect for millennia: it cannot change direction. Condemned to walk in one straight line forever, these crabs living along the Gironde estuary have largely resigned themselves to their fate. However, one seemingly ordinary summer, three crabs decide to take matters into their own claws and rebel against the straight and narrow path they have been sentenced to, upending the entire ecosystem in the process. From critically-acclaimed French illustrator and animator Arthur de Pins comes the first volume in his hilarious and touching trilogy about scuttling towards your own destiny.

Target Age Range: 

Adult

Genre:

Natural world, humour

Art Style:

Cartoony

Reading time:

Took me about twenty minutes to half an hour with a few short interruptions.

Let’s get gabbing:

Considering this is a one-track story (see what I did there?!) it’s remarkably engaging.  There are two plot lines unrolling simultaneously.  The first involves the crabs of the title – Cancer Simplicimus Vulgaris – who have ignored any attempts at evolution and are mostly (except for a few renegades) perfectly happy to be restricted to following a straight line of travel their whole lives.  The second storyline features two documentary makers who are certain that Cancer Simplicimus Vulgaris are at least as exciting as anything David Attenborough could cook up, and are intent on filming this threatened species in its natural habitat.

This is quite a funny story.  Aside from the inanity arising from the trials of a species that can only walk in a straight line, the crabby characters each have their own personalities, if not their own names.  You see, the likelihood of one crab’s path crossing another’s is so scant that the crabs don’t even bother to name themselves – what’s the point if your trajectory won’t ever bring you into hailing distance of another of your species?  I particularly enjoyed the scenes featuring a nihilistic crab who had the misfortune to be born between two large rocks.

Once the plot twist happens (**spoiler: an unlucky situation prompts a serendipitous discovery by two of the crabs) the story is suddenly plunged into action scenes which have a humour all their own.  A bombshell is dropped right at the end of this volume and I can’t imagine how life is going to change for our crusty protagonists with their new-found knowledge.  I’d like to find out though.

Overall snapshot:

I want to know what happens next for Boater, Sunny and Guitar – the three protagonist crabs – given the exciting note on which the story ends here.  If you are a fan of quirky stories and unexpectedly lovable characters, you should definitely check this graphic novel out.

Stitched #1 by Mariah McCourt & Aaron Alexovich

stitched

From Netgalley:

Crimson Volania Mulch has a problem; she just woke up in a crypt and, besides her name, has no idea of who, where, or what she is. Welcome to the Cemetery of Assumptions, a vast landscape of stones, mausoleums, and secrets. Home to monsters and mayhem, it may also hold the answers to her unknown parentage. 

Crimson is a resourceful patchwork girl and determined to find them. Along the way, she meets the mysterious Wisteria, who has a tendency to change and a witch named Parameter whose spells tend to go awry. And two boys, Simon and Quinton, who make her feel something besides lost and confused. She must battle ghosts, zombies, and monsters in order to learn where she came from and who her real “mother” is. But will she do it alone, or will she have help from her new friends and unexpected crushes?

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade/YA

Genre:

Humour, Fantasy

Art Style:

Colourful, blue-hued, busy

Reading time:

About twenty minutes

Let’s get gabbing:

This turned out to be far more cutesy in content than I would have expected given the cover, in the sense that while the characters are undead/paranormal/magical the story includes typical tropes for the upper middle grade age group, such as crushes on undead boys and squabbling amongst the girl gang.  Crimson is a bit of a mystery protagonist here in that she awakes in Assumption Cemetery with no memory of how she got there.  Luckily, she maintains quite a positive attitude despite her seeming adversity and immediately pops off to explore her surroundings, meeting some new friends along the way.

I loved the pet that turns up out of the blue as a gift for Crimson – so cute!  I also enjoyed that one of the characters is reminiscent of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, because Mad Martha is currently designing an amigurumi of a similar character – that was quite topical for we shelf-dwellers. Overall though, I was a little disappointed that while the trappings of an original, intriguing paranormal world were present, the story didn’t really use these to best effect and my final impression of the story was that the characters could have been lifted out of any old pre-teen saga.

I found the formatting a bit busy for my tastes also.  There were smaller frames within middle sized frames within large frames throughout, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to miss something on each page because there was so much going on.

Overall snapshot

I’m quite happy to leave Crimson and her friends at the end of this volume.  Even though there is some mystery remaining as to who Crimson actually is and where she came from, I don’t feel like the characters and the mystery are engaging or original enough to keep my interest.  If you know of any upper middle grade readers who like fantasy, mystery and graphic novels however, they might like to give this a try.

Well, this was definitely an interesting mix to get my teeth into and generally the quality is quite high.  Have you come across any new graphic novels lately?

Until next time,

Bruce

Atmospheric Adult Fiction and the Bygone Video Store: Universal Harvester

1

universal harvester

Ah, the good old video store!  Blockbuster, Video2000, Civic Video, VideoEzy: for the most part they’ve all gone the way of the dinosaurs – not, thankfully, in the fiery chaos of destruction by meteorite, but nevertheless faded from consciousness, if not from the lazy person’s keyring.

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle, who I first encountered through Wolf in White Van  back in 2014, is the atmospheric, creepy and mildly discomfiting story of a selection of video tapes upon which some unwanted footage has been foisted.  We received our copy from Scribe Publications for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Jeremy works at the counter of Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa. It’s the 1990s, pre-DVD, and the work is predictable and familiar; he likes his boss, and it gets him out of the house.

But when a local schoolteacher comes in to return her copy of Targets, she has an odd complaint: ‘There’s something on it,’ she says. Two days later, another customer brings back She’s All That and complains that something is wrong: ‘There’s another movie on this tape.’

Curious, Jeremy takes a look. And what he sees on the videos is so strange and disturbing that it propels him out of his comfortable routine and into a search for the tapes’ creator. As the once-peaceful fields and barns of the Iowa landscape begin to seem sinister and threatening, Jeremy must come to terms with a truth that is as devastatingly sad as it is shocking.

If you haven’t read any of Darnielle’s work before, you won’t be familiar with his strange, detached narrative style.  A lot of the work of piecing together the story is left to the reader, and it can take a few chapters (or half the book) before one can feel settled in the story.  Even then, everything’s a bit touch and go as you never know where Darnielle will spin the yarn next.

There was something strangely attractive about the creepiness of the blurb that had me requesting this one.  If you are old enough to remember a time before internet, Netflix and 24 hour movie channels and the like, you will be able to appreciate the utter spookiness of finding weird, confusing, disturbing footage taped onto a video from a rental store.  I mean, someone had to first tape the footage, then borrow the video from the shop, then tape the footage onto the borrowed tape, then return it, all the while knowing that someone else was going to get one hell of a fright after borrowing out a tape for a Saturday night romcom.  It’s quite a violation if you think about it for too long!

The story unfolds slowly, with the mystery of the tapes eking out in dribs and drabs as more tapes come to light and Jeremy’s boss starts to get far too involved in the whole business.  Darnielle has done a brilliant job of heightening the suspense throughout, as particular characters start to behave in unexpected ways and its not clear how certain events and behaviours are linked – or if they are linked at all.  The structure of the book requires the reader to jump back and forth in time: initially we are introduced to Jeremy, the video store and the discovery of the errant tapes, before flicking back to the past and an instructive piece of plotting that fills in some of the gaps for one key character, and finally jumping forward to the present and a new set of characters who provide the denouement and tie up loose ends.

The final part of the story sees a new family moving in to the farmhouse in which the mysterious footage was apparently shot.  This family are the key to winding up the mystery and making the path straight for the reader.  It was a relief to have all the loose ends tied up in a completely unexpected way, and the ending really puts a new spin on the events that went before.

Once again, I don’t necessarily think that Darnielle’s style of writing is going to appeal to every reader, but I did find this book more accessible and less confusing than Wolf in White Van.  There seemed to be more clues and contextual pieces of information from the author in this one early on, that at least had me invested in Jeremy, his father and what might befall them throughout the story, so that I was committed to getting to the end even when things weren’t as clear as they might be.

I would give this one a go if you are a fan of stories that give you a shiver up your spine, but don’t follow the usual path and tropes seen in most creepy stories.

Until next time,

Bruce

A MG Double Dip Review: Magic and Malodorous Mischief

2

image

I hope you’ve got some stinky cheese accompanied by the sort of cracker that disappears quickly for today’s double dip review because we will be examining two middle grade titles rife with magic and malodour.

First up, it’s magic.  We received Goodly and Grave in a Bad Case of Kidnap by Justine Windsor from HarperCollins Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Lucy Goodly is the new boot girl at Grave Hall, working for the cold, aloof Lord Grave. The other staff – Vonk the Butler, Mrs Crawley the cook and Violet the scullery maid – all seem friendly but Lucy soon notices that strange things are afoot in her new home – and not just Mrs Crawley’s experimental anchovy omelettes. There are moving statues, magical books and Lord Grave has a secret. Meanwhile, all over the country, children are vanishing. Could the mystery of the missing children be linked to the strange goings-on? Lucy is determined to find out…

goodly and grave

Dip into it for…

…an original framing of magic in middle grade and unexpected twists aplenty.  Lucy is in possession of a secret playing card that seems to be imbued with some kind of magical capacity, allowing her to win every game of poker she plays.  After being inexplicably beaten by Lord Grave and subsequently required to serve as his Bootgirl, Lucy has plenty of time in which to ponder how her magic card could have let her down so badly.  The author has plotted this story to ensure that the reader can never get too comfortable with the situation at hand before a strange new revelation crops up.  I was particularly impressed with the mechanical raven (which of course is hiding a secret) and young maid Violet’s stuffed frog toy (being, as I am, a fan of stuffed toys). The illustrations throughout the book also liven things up enormously, and these, as well as the little newspaper clippings here and there, will enhance the experience of young readers.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of young children playing games of chance inside houses of ill-repute well past their bedtime.

Overall Dip Factor

This story is a bit unusual in that instead of the usual single major plot twist three quarters of the way in, there are several revelations throughout that throw Lucy’s cleverly thought-out theories on their heads and force her to go back to square one and re-evaluate who she can trust.  The narrative style is light and slightly melodramatic and a tad silly in places, so is a perfect choice for young readers who like to mix mystery and magic with a giggle here or there.  I quite enjoyed the ending, as it provides a bit of a launching pad into the second book in the series – although I can’t imagine what might happen next!  I would recommend this one for fans of plucky young not-orphan stories set in a fictional past.

Next up, we have an Aussie offering from Alex Ratt (aka Frances Watts) & Jules Faber.  We received The Stinky Street Stories from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The first thing I noticed when I woke up on Sunday morning was a mysterious smell…

When Brian (‘call me Brain – everyone does’) awakes to a truly putrid pong, he knows it is up to him and his friend Nerf to neutralise it. But that putrid pong is just the beginning, because life on Stinky Street is a riot of rotten reeks, awful aromas and sickening scents. So grab a peg (for your nose) or risk being flattened by the fumes!

Dip into it for…  stinky street

…exactly what it says on the tin.  This is a collection of four short stories featuring Brian, his friend Nerf, and a variety of antics involving stink, pong, funk, stench, reek, miasma, whiff and malodour.  I am going to go out on a not-very-distant limb here and say that this book will definitely appeal more to your average eight-to-ten year old male lover of gross stories than any other cross-section of reading society.  The stories are completely silly and accompanied by suitably amusing cartoon style illustrations and emphatic font styles to enhance the reading experience.  The stories are all quite short and while the whole book could easily be read in one sitting by a confident young reader, unless you are a whopping great fan of stench-based narrative, it might be a good idea to take the stories one at a time.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of kid’s books that revel in being a bit majorly gross.

Overall Dip Factor

While this was not a book that I particularly got much out of as an adult reader, I will admit to perking up a bit upon the introduction of the Sweet Street Girls in the final two stories of the book.  This gang of girls (who live on Sweet Street – as opposed to Brian and Nerf, who live on Stinky Street) are witty, intrepid and unafraid of toil if it means turning the tables on the Stinky Boys.  These last two stories gave me a bit of hope that there might be a not-entirely-stink-based direction for these stories should there be a second book in this series.  I’d say this is strictly one for young fans of books in the style of Captain Underpants and Andy Griffith’s Bum books.

Until next time,

Bruce