Bruce’s Shelfies: We have come….to the end.

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Well. Sort of.  We haven’t come to the complete, grinding end, but it’s time to announce that I will be winding back my output for this blog over the next few months.  After nearly five years of blogging and nearly two years of posting five days a week, I have hit something of a wall in both reading and wanting to blog and I have therefore made the decision to ease off a bit.

It started with Fiction in 50.  At the end of last year I was unsure of whether I wanted to continue that feature because it felt like a chore more than anything.  I put the question to you good folk and some of you felt strongly that it should stay, so stay it has.  But my heart’s not in it.

Then over the past month or two I’ve had enormous trouble keeping up with my review schedule.  I just can’t seem to read fast enough to get through all the books I have scheduled.  And just when I get through one stack, a whole new slew of books arrives in the mail.  I’ve come to dread receiving book-shaped packages, to tell you the truth, which is a very sad thing for a Bookshelf Gargoyle.  I’ve been reading the same two books for a fortnight now and while I’m enjoying both, I don’t seem to be making much progress.

A few nights ago, instead of picking up my scheduled books, I started re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  I haven’t re-read it in years and for the last few days I have loved dropping back into that world.  I have ignored my reviewing responsibilities and I’m loving it.

I’ve also been having tech issues, with computers dying and troubles with posting on other devices.  Then there’s the fact that I really only get one day during the week to post, so I have to cram in five, sometimes six days worth of posts, into a few hours of sitting in front of the computer.

It has all begun to feel like too much work for something that is supposed to be a hobby.

So today I emailed the main publishers that I work with and asked that any requests for books that I have made for the rest of the year be withdrawn so I can sit back, relax and concentrate on getting through the books I have already received.  This was tricky to do because even as I looked through the list I thought, “Oh no, I can’t cancel THAT request, I just HAVE to read that book!” but I steeled my reserve and pressed send regardless.  And as if to illustrate the necessity of taking this action, I had no sooner sent the emails than the postman arrived with another book.

The crux of the matter is that for the next little while I will not be posting five days a week.  I may post once a week.  Maybe once a fortnight.  I will endeavour to post on the books that I have already received from publishers – about 14 in total – but I have completely ignored Netgalley for the last week and I don’t think I’ll get to the 20+ books on my Netgalley list.

I am taking a break.

And this decision has made me a lot more positively disposed toward the books already sitting on my shelf.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

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Picture Book Double Dip: Dragons and Planetary Terraforming…

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Grab some colourful snacks to accompany two colourful picture books for today’s double dip review.  We received both of today’s books from Bloomsbury Australia for review.  First up, we have There is No Dragon in this Story by Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Poor old dragon. Nobody wants him in their story. Not Goldilocks, not Hansel and Gretel – no one. But Dragon will not give up! He shall continue on his course of finding someone who wants him in their story. ANYONE. His boundless enthusiasm surely won’t get him into any trouble. Surely …

A glorious story about dragons, heroes and ice cream with sprinkles. From author Lou Carter, a phenomenal new talent, and Deborah Allwright, illustrator of the bestselling The Night Pirates.

Dip into it for… dragon story

… a fun romp, and with such a sympathetically drawn protagonist, too! Poor old dragon is always the villain and he’s now fed up with having to fight (and lose) to the knight every single time. He wants to be a hero, but none of the fairytale folk can find room for a dragon in their stories. While assisting Jack (of beanstalk fame) on his mission, dragon accidentally sets in motion a chain of events that cause the sun to go out….but who could the fairytale folk possibly find who could reignite the sun? Enter the dragon of course!

There’s plenty of humour in this one, in both the text and cheeky illustrative details. The mini-fleshlings enjoyed spotting all the different fairytale characters and the surprise post-climax ending (ie: the last page!) even had us trip-trapping off to remind ourselves what happened in a certain fairytale story, so the book launched us on our own adventure.

Overall Dip Factor

Young readers, and especially those who are younger siblings or always shunted out of the “hero” role in imaginative games, will no doubt relate to poor old dragon, who really only wants a brief shining moment in the sun and a chance to break out of his stereotypically assigned role.

The combination of text and illustrative format means that the story rolls along quickly and we found this to be an all around winner as a pre-bedtime, relaxing read.

Next up we have one for the budding astronomers and engineers with Up, Up and Away by Tom McLaughlin.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

What does it take to build your very own planet? Orson is about to find out.
He takes:
A cup full of rocks
A dash of water
A sprinkling of metal
A lot of nothingness
A big bang …
And before long, BOOM! He has it – a tiny planet with rings around it, right there in his bedroom! But it seems that BUILDING a planet is the easy bit; taking care of it is a different thing altogether. Over time, Orson realises that his planet needs to be free and that sometimes you have to let go of the things that you love the most …

A heart-warming story about life’s possibilities and disappointments with an uplifting ending that will resonate with all fans of Oliver Jeffers’ work.

Dip into it for…  up and away

…a remarkably cute story with a multi-pronged narrative that covers everything from environmental issues to the struggle of letting go. Orson is a boy who likes to make things and very handy at it too, he seems to be. After creating a very small planet in his own bedroom, a chain reaction begins that leads to Orson having to weigh up his love of his creation against the planet’s best interests. The ending might encompass the only sensible choice that Orson can make, but the author leaves the reader with a bit of hope that Orson and his planet might one day meet again.

The mini-fleshlings enjoyed this story and the busy illustrations but it didn’t grab them on first reading as I expected it might, given that both of them are avid makers of things using random bits of rubbish from around the house. I had a little trouble with the way the story meshed together (or didn’t) because I expected after the first few pages that the story might have a strong scientific bent. A few more pages in and I changed my mind to think that the story would focus on environmental issues regarding the proper way to care for a planet. A few pages on however, and the focus had changed again to an “if you love something, set it free” sort of vibe. This change of focus throughout meant that I didn’t feel the story hung together quite as well as it might have, but this was a small niggle in the scheme of things.

Overall Dip Factor

This would be a great choice as a literacy link for primary school classes in the early years who are covering planets in science. Orson’s makey nature is also a good source of inspiration for getting little ones making their big ideas for real.

So what do you think of this duo? Better than a roast-Knight sandwich with a space food stick chaser, I suspect!

Until next time,

Bruce

Top Book of 2017 Pick: The Ethan I Was Before…

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Today’s Top Book of 2017 pick is one for the middle grade readers who like something authentic and realistic, steeped in humour and depth.  We received The Ethan I Was Before from Hachette Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Ethan had been many things. He was always ready for adventure and always willing to accept a dare, especially from his best friend, Kacey. But that was before. Before the accident that took Kacey from him. Before his family moved from the city he loves to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. 

Ethan’s new home feels like the place for second chances. It’s also home to Coralee, a girl with a big personality and even bigger stories. Coralee may be just the friend Ethan needs, except Ethan isn’t the only one with secrets. Coralee’s are catching up with her, and what she’s hiding might be putting both their lives at risk. 

The Ethan I Was Before is a story of love and loss, wonder and adventure, and ultimately of hope.

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It took a little while for this book to hit me the way it did but having finished it and had some time to reflect on it, The Ethan I Was Before is definitely one of those special books for middle grade readers that will stay in the reader’s mind long after they’ve put it down. With a slight Bridge to Terabithia feel, Ethan moves to a new, insular town after a tragedy involving his best friend Kacey. When Ethan starts to form a strong bond with Coralee in his new school, his parents are understandably worried that his unresolved issues from the “Kacey incident” will resurface in this new friendship to the detriment of both kids involved. Little do his parents know, but Coralee seems to be just what Ethan needs to trust himself again and learn to trust others.

There’s a lot going on throughout the book that will have young readers questioning the motives of various characters – is Coralee really to be trusted with her “colourful” stories? Will Ethan’s brother ever want to talk to him since Ethan ruined his potential baseball career with the move? Is the big house haunted or is something more secretive going on amongst the residents of the town? I found these questions made the reading experience richer and was impressed to see that the author manages to flesh out each of these storylines by the end of the book and provide at least some answers to each. Part of the beauty of the story for me lies in the fact that no character is two-dimensional. Every significant character in Ethan’s sphere – both child and adult – is made more authentic by the issues that they are struggling with, all of which are revealed by the end of the book.

The book includes flashbacks of sorts and thereby slowly reveals the details of the Kacey incident. What happened during this tragedy may not be exactly what the reader expects – deliberately so, it seems – and this also allowed for a change of perspective on what exactly it is that Ethan is trying to process.

Overall, I found this to be a mature and quite sophisticated story for a middle grade audience that didn’t patronise readers by tying everything up in expected and obvious ways.

Until next time,
Bruce

Gabbing about Graphic Novels: The Park Bench…

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Today’s graphic novel is a ode to the humble park bench from Christophe Chaboute.  We received The Park Bench from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Chabouté’s enchanting story of a park bench was first published to critical acclaim in France in 2012. Faber now brings his work to the English-speaking world for the first time.

Through Chabouté’s elegant graphic style, we watch people pass, stop, meet, return, wait and play out the strange and funny choreography of life. Fans of The Fox and the Star, The Man Who Planted Trees and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood will find this intimate graphic novel about a simple park bench – and the people who walk by or linger – poignant, life-affirming and brilliantly original.

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Target Age Range: 

Adult

Genre:

Contemporary, realism

Art Style:

Line drawings, cartoon

Reading time:

About twenty minutes in one sitting

Let’s get gabbing:

The Park Bench is a longitudinal look at the life and times of a simple park bench, as seen through the eyes of those who use it.

One might not expect a great deal of feels, as the young people say, to arise in a wordless story about an inanimate object, yet The Park Bench is chock full of poignancy and moments that are quietly heartbreaking. The book follows various folk as they interact (or not) with a simple park bench, from the young sweethearts who carve a memorial to their love into the bench, to the elderly couple who routinely use the bench to share a baked snack, to the homeless man who just wants to have a kip without being moved on by a recurrent policeman. Some characters seem to be bit players, with a very small story arc – such as the businessman who trudges past the bench on his way to and from work and the jogger who uses the bench as part of his fitness routine – while other characters’ stories unfold throughout the tale. The story of the homeless man is, I think, the most developed of the bunch and the ending to that story is both satisfying and somewhat irritating, although it does prompt reflection on the various uses to which one can put their life and the vagaries of changing allegiances.

This is a right old doorstop of a book, yet it took me a very short time to get through it, given its graphic novel format. I suspect it’s one that is meant to be flicked through again and again, to allow details that were missed the first time to come to the surface.

The ending of the park bench’s story is quite bittersweet and filled with the same sort of quiet rebellion and “coming full circle” that colour the stories of many of the characters with whom the park bench has a relationship.

Overall snapshot:

I enjoyed this one, but the sparsity of text and the need to look carefully at panels that alternate between mostly blank and filled with action may not be to everyone’s tastes.

 Until next time,

Bruce