Bruce’s Shelfies: DNFs with Potential…

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A while ago I decided to take on a DNF (Did not finish) default policy for all books that came across my path, inspired by this post by Anya at On Starships and Dragonwings blog.  As a result, I no longer push myself to finish books when my interest is waning or I’m just not feeling the story….

…but…

…that doesn’t necessarily mean that because I decide to DNF a book, it’s because the book is bad.  Sometimes I DNF because I can’t push through fast enough, or I started off enjoying the book but then lost interest.  So it is for today’s two titles.  Read on to find out why I made the decision to put them down…and why you might like to pick them up.


 

built on bones

 

I received Built on Bones:15000 Years of Urban Life and Death by Brenna Hassett from Bloomsbury Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Humans and their immediate ancestors were successful hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years, but in the last fifteen thousand years humans have gone from finding food to farming it, from seasonal camps to sprawling cities, from a few people to hordes. Drawing on her own fieldwork in the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, and beyond, archeologist Brenna Hassett explores the long history of urbanization through revolutionary changes written into the bones of the people who lived it.

For every major new lifestyle, another way of dying appeared. From the “cradle of civilization” in the ancient Near East to the dawn of agriculture on the American plains, skeletal remains and fossil teeth show evidence of shorter lives, rotten teeth, and growth interrupted. The scarring on human skeletons reveals that getting too close to animals had some terrible consequences, but so did getting too close to too many other people.

Each chapter of Built on Bones moves forward in time, discussing in depth humanity’s great urban experiment. Hassett explains the diseases, plagues, epidemics, and physical dangers we have unwittingly unleashed upon ourselves throughout the urban past–and, as the world becomes increasingly urbanized, what the future holds for us. In a time when “Paleo” lifestyles are trendy and so many of us feel the pain of the city daily grind, this book asks the critical question: Was it worth it?

Built on Bones is a nonfiction look at how our species evolved from roaming nomad hunter-gatherers, through a settled farming lifestyle to our current incarnation as urban couch potatoes and asks whether the trendy “paleo” way of living really is based on the actual way that hunter-gatherer societies functioned.  Hassett begins at the beginning, with the oldest remains of settled societies before moving on chapter by chapter toward our present-day urban living.  I put this one down after 109 pages – about halfway through chapter five – in the middle of an interesting discussion on equality and ways in which social power structures (in early societies as well as more modern ones) tend to shape who gets access to which food resources and how this then affects our understanding of historical societies when we dig up their bones.

This was a completely fascinating read, and one to use against that annoying “clean-eating, whole-food” aficionado that we all have in our social circle.  Hassett injects lots of humour into what is essentially an academic work, as well as plenty of footnotes that I came to think of as snide asides, and the only reason I have DNFed this as a review book is that it is taking me far too long to get through.  If you look at my Goodreads challenge you can see I’ve been reading it for over a month and I’m still only a third of the way through.  Seeing as the book is released this month, I really couldn’t see how I could possibly get through it all in order to give it a proper review in a timely fashion.

So this was a DNF for me review-wise, but I am certain that I will keep reading it until the end, although I can’t imagine how long that will take.  Definitely give it a go if you are interested in anthropology and how our access to and methods of making and consuming food impacts on our lifespan and general health.

carmer and grit

We received Carmer and Grit #1: The Wingsnatchers by Sarah Jean Horwitz from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A stunning debut about a magician’s apprentice and a one-winged princess who must vanquish the mechanical monsters that stalk the streets and threaten the faerie kingdom.

Aspiring inventor and magician’s apprentice Felix Carmer III would rather be tinkering with his latest experiments than sawing girls in half on stage, but with Antoine the Amazifier’s show a tomato’s throw away from going under, Carmer is determined to win the cash prize in the biggest magic competition in Skemantis. When fate throws Carmer across the path of fiery, flightless faerie princess Grit (do not call her Grettifrida), they strike a deal. If Carmer will help Grit investigate a string of faerie disappearances, she’ll use her very real magic to give his mechanical illusions a much-needed boost against the competition. But Carmer and Grit soon discover they’re not the only duo trying to pair magic with machine – and the combination can be deadly.

In this story perfect for readers of the Lockwood & Co and Wildwood series, Sarah Jean Horwitz takes readers on a thrilling journey through a magical wooded fairyland and steampunk streets where terrifying automata cats lurk in the shadows and a mad scientist’s newest mechanical invention might be more menace than miracle.

This story is a complex steampunk/fantasy tale aimed at middle graders.  I enjoyed the initial chapters immensely, as they featured solid world building and a clean introduction to the problems that the characters were going to face later on, but I ended up putting this one down at 33%.  I have a hit and miss relationship with steampunk stories generally, but it was the magic elements of the story that put me off. I found that I was much more fascinated with the automatons that Carmer had dreams of building (and the mysterious, sinister automaton cat that appears early on) than with Grit, the fairy princess with a chip (and only one wing) on her shoulder.

While the mystery and the danger that the main characters would face was set up nicely, I just found my interest waning after a little while.  I can see this series gaining plenty of fans though, so if you enjoy your fantasy stories blended with another genre I would definitely give this one a go.


So what do you think?  Have either of these titles sparked your interest?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Meandering through Middle Grade: A Different Dog…

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I’m back with another Paul Jennings new release today, courtesy of Allen & Unwin.  A Different Dog felt like a big departure from Jennings’ typical work, despite the fact that the twist in the tale is still present.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The gripping and surprising story of a boy, a dog and a daring rescue from the bestselling, much-loved author of the Don’t Look Now series and The Unforgettable What’s His Name.

The forest is dense and dark. And the trail full of unexpected perils. The dog can’t move. The boy can’t talk. And you won’t know why. Or where you are going. You will put this story down not wanting the journey to end.

But it’s from Paul Jennings so watch out for the ambush.

One of the best. From one of the best.

a different dog

A Different Dog by Paul Jennings.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th April 2017.  RRP: $14.99

When you’ve read almost everything a particular author has written over many years and suddenly they do something with a story you don’t expect, it can be hard to measure it against your previous experiences of their work.  So it was for me with this story.  A Different Dog has a much more subdued and sombre tone that much of Jennings’ previous work and the magical realism that often colours his stories and provides the impetus for his famous twists in the tail of the tale is absent here.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – just different from what I would have expected.

The story revolves around a boy who has been a selective mute (or possibly an anxiety-induced mute) since a traumatic incident involving a beloved pet.  He lives with his mother in livable poverty and is disconnected from peers due to his lack of speech.  While on a mission to win a cash prize in a community fun run, the boy witnesses a vehicle accident and attempts to help – but instead ends up trying to find his way out of the hillside terrain accompanied by a highly unusual dog, who was a passenger in the crashed vehicle.  Along the way home, the boy makes a number of life-changing discoveries…but his greatest challenge comes later when his friendship with the dog is tested by fate.

I quite enjoyed the subtleties of this story as a change from the wackier antics that embody Jennings’ usual fare.  Even though it is a reasonably short read, this felt more like a story for older readers who could appreciate the themes of grief, guilt and shame that ring-fence the boy’s image of himself.  There is a pointedness in the story relating to the cruelty of others, whether between humans or from humans directed at animals, and this left me with a bit of a sense of the sinister when I think back to the story.

On the whole, I think I prefer Jennings’ lighter works but A Different Dog is a thought-provoking read that uses a remarkably small word count to effectively raise questions about ethics, choices and making recompense for past mistakes.  This would be a great choice for reluctant young adult readers or those who require high-interest, low reading level tales for struggling older readers.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

An Unexpected Top Book of 2017 Pick: It’s All A Game

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I can honestly say that today’s book came out of left field as a Top Book of 2017 pick, andI never expected to be so absorbed and engaged by a book about the history of board games.  We received It’s All A Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to  Settlers of Catan by Tristan Donovan from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Board games have been with us longer than even the written word. But what is it about this pastime that continues to captivate us well into the age of smartphones and instant gratification?

In It’s All a Game, British journalist and renowned games expert Tristan Donovan opens the box on the incredible and often surprising history and psychology of board games. He traces the evolution of the game across cultures, time periods, and continents, from the paranoid Chicago toy genius behind classics like Operation and Mouse Trap, to the role of Monopoly in helping prisoners of war escape the Nazis, and even the scientific use of board games today to teach artificial intelligence how to reason and how to win. With these compelling stories and characters, Donovan ultimately reveals why board games have captured hearts and minds all over the world for generations.

it's all a game

Upon reading the blurb for this one you may, as I initially did, think, “Hmm.  That sounds mildly interesting”.  On picking up the book and reading the introduction, which discusses the decline and rise of board game shops and cafes in various major cities around the world you might say to yourself, “How quaint! I wasn’t aware of those!”  And by the end of the second chapter, having read about the ancient game of Senet and the history of Chess, you would be forgiven for ignoring friends, family and important duties in your pursuit of further knowledge about the history of board games.

This book was bizarrely absorbing.

I struggled to put it down.

Since I finished it I have been pondering and planning how to (a) acquire more board games and (b) seamlessly integrate board game playing time into the lives of the fleshlings of the dwelling.

Honestly, this book is bizarrely, weirdly, totally absorbing.

I could not have predicted any of the fascinating and useful (for trivia nights, if nothing else) information about the creation of various board games.  Did you know Chess originated in India?  That Monopoly began its life as a game promoting the evils of capitalism?  Were you aware that the Japanese used table top board games to plan and role play the bombing of Pearl Harbour?  That rigged board game sets were sent to Allied prisoners of war in World War II in order to provide prisoners with tools they would need for escape?  That Cluedo originally had a bunch more characters?  That one of the most famed board game makers in America suffered from crippling paranoia that workers might leak developments in the factory?

I bet you didn’t.

I certainly didn’t, which is why I found this in-depth examination of board game playing and its social history endlessly fascinating.  The book is divided into chapters dealing with either specific board games (Chess, Backgammon, Monopoly, The Game of Life, Cluedo and Trivial Pursuit are all included, amongst others) or some aspect of society that has been influenced by the use of board games (the use of table top military manouvring games, the development of electronics and new forms of playing surface in board games, the rise of games for adults and “adult” **wink, wink** games, how characters or elements of games were switched to appeal to their cultural context).  The chapters have sections that are almost written in a narrative nonfiction style as the stories of the game inventors (and frequently their loss of expected fortune) are recounted.  Surprisingly, the stories often involve backstabbing, theft of intellectual property and not quite the number of rags to riches tales as you might expect.

What was most surprising, and inspiring, was the observation that board games and their variations are seemingly in high demand again as more people begin to look for non-screen-based ways to connect with family and friends.  If you have any interest at all in popular culture and the playing of board games, I highly recommend giving this book a read – mostly because I want to see whether it really is as endlessly fascinating as I experienced it – but also because by reading it, we might all kick-start a revolution toward face to face experiences again.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Meandering through (Aussie) Middle Grade: The Turnkey…

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Today I’ve got the final book in my recent run of World War II related reads, with The Turnkey by Aussie author Allison Rushby.  We excitedly received this one from Walker Books Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Flossie Birdwhistle is the Turnkey at London’s Highgate Cemetery. As Turnkey, Flossie must ensure all the souls in the cemetery stay at rest. This is a difficult job at the best of times for a twelve-year-old ghost, but it is World War II and each night enemy bombers hammer London. Even the dead are unsettled. When Flossie encounters the ghost of a German soldier carrying a mysterious object, she becomes suspicious. What is he up to? Before long, Flossie uncovers a sinister plot that could result in the destruction of not only her cemetery, but also her beloved country. Can Flossie stop him before it is too late?

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The Turnkey is a solid, original and intriguing tale that has the perfect blend of mystery, history and paranormal activity.  Flossie is the Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery in London, a job which involves ensuring that the dead interred in the cemetery remain – for the most part – peacefully at rest.  With the Blitz causing chaos every night, Flossie seeks solace in visiting some of the other Turnkeys in London’s major cemeteries.  On a midnight sojourn to St Paul’s Cathedral – a favourite thinking spot – Flossie encounters a ghost who shouldn’t, by the laws of the afterlife, be there (never mind that he’s dressed in the uniform of a Nazi SS Officer) and is drawn into a mystery that could tip the scales of the war in favour of the Nazis.

Flossie is an immediately likable character and throughout the story demonstrates her resilience, courage in adversity and compassion for those in difficult situations.  The Nazi officer, who we discover has an unexpected link to Flossie herself, is suitably evil and frightening, and each of the Turnkeys that we meet has his or her own personality, quirks and in some cases, secrets.

I always love books for young readers that aren’t set in schools.  Apart from the fact that being school-less allows the author to neatly avoid all those boring, repetitive, school-bully-based tropes, the non-school setting also makes books for young readers more accessible and interesting for grown up readers.  Such was the case with The Turnkey.  In fact, I kept forgetting that Flossie was meant to be twelve years old – albeit a reasonably long-dead twelve years old – such was the adult appeal of the novel. I love a good set-in-the-Blitz story also and the mix of bombed out London with the atmospheric cemeteries really worked to give a sense of the never-ending clean up and rescue operations that coloured that particular time in London’s history.

The pacing of this story was spot-on, with no filler material included to slow things down.  Reveals came at regular intervals with just enough new information to spur the reader on to discover the next twist in the ghostly Nazi’s plans.  I was impressed with the way the author managed to maintain all the threads of the story without losing the quality of each along the way.  By the end of the book the reader gets to experience the paranormal aspect of the Turnkeys working together (plus some patriotic and enthusiastic ghostly members of the Chelsea Pensioners Hospital), a journey into Churchill’s war rooms and the war rooms of the Nazis, a glimpse into the reality of those living and dying in the rubble and shelters and hospital wards of London during the Blitz, and a fantasy element featuring ancient artifacts.  None of these separate plot threads felt forced or tacked on and taken together they added greatly to the originality and atmosphere of the novel.

The only thing that could have made this book better – as I say with pretty much every book, everywhere – would be pictures.  I remember seeing a documentary or something on the Chelsea Pensioners and their red jackets and it would be awesome (and instructive for younger readers) to see some images of these iconic characters, as well as some images of the actual cemeteries or London during the Blitz for example.  There is a little author’s note at the back with some historical information and it was nice to see that the author had also consulted that seminal of cemetery-related tomes, Katherine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and its Dead.  **I read this ages ago and thought I was amongst a select few, but it keeps popping up as a reference authors have used for lots of fiction books that I’ve come across.  Give it a read if you feel inclined.**

 

I’m fairly sure that this is intended as a standalone novel but I would be interested in seeing what happens next for Flossie.  Given that she’s dead and doesn’t have to age or experience the changes of growing up, it would be cool to see a progression of historical/fantasy/mystery novels featuring the Turnkeys of London’s major cemeteries in different time periods up to the present.  I’d read them, anyway!

If you are a fan of historical fiction, particularly World War II fiction and you can’t go past a paranormal twist I would definitely recommend hunting down The Turnkey.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Adult Fiction Mental Health Novel “In Two Minds”…and I am.

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in two minds

I couldn’t resist the lure of a new novel featuring mental illness and its effects, from one of Australia’s leading psychiatrists, no less, and so here we are today with In Two Minds by Gordon Parker, founder of the Black Dog Institute.  We received our copy from Ventura Press for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Dr Martin Homer is a GP with a naturally sunny disposition. Honourable, attentive and trusted by all of his patients, Martin has only ever loved one woman – his wife, Sarah.

When his mother dies suddenly, Martin’s comfortable life is thrown into complete disarray. After sinking into the black dog of grief and depression, he ascends to new heights in a frenzied, manic high. Now, he’s never felt better!

In between riding his new skateboard around the streets at night and self-medicating from his stash at work, the artificially elated and self-entitled Martin crosses paths with Bella, a beautiful and sexual young woman profoundly damaged by trauma of her own.

In Two Minds takes you on a quirky, rollicking journey that unveils the complexities of mental illness with wit and warmth. Gordon Parker’s impressive career in psychiatry reveals itself through extremely rich descriptions of depression, bipolar and borderline personality characteristics.

It must be said that when you’ve read a lot of books, both fiction and nonfiction, featuring mental illness of one form or another, things do tend to get a bit samey.  This is one of the reasons I am in two minds about In Two Minds – if this had been the first novel I had read in which the protagonist has a breakdown and ends up in a psychiatric unit, I may have been more interested in the outcome.  Indeed, if I had not had the pleasure of spending some time in a psychiatric hospital myself, I may have been more entranced by the ins and outs of what happens when you are deemed no longer able to manage your own affairs without cocking things up in spectacular fashion.  If you have not had such an experience yourself, and you aren’t elbow deep in the back catalogue of “books about people losing their marbles in various painful and unexpected ways” then you should find In Two Minds to be compelling reading.

Martin Homer is an all-around good bloke.  He loves his wife, is wholeheartedly devoted to his work as a GP and generally sets the standard for good behaviour and personal growth everywhere he goes.  Bella is a woman with a past and a borderline personality disorder (**I’ve always wondered why the “borderline” part is added to the “personality disorder” part of that description, because there ain’t nothin’ “borderline” about Bella’s crazy, vitriolic antics**).  When Martin’s self-medicating after the death of his mother leads to a manic episode, the trajectories of Bella and Martin cross and Martin’s prior grip on his identity, his marriage and his work is shattered.

The story is told in alternating sections between Martin and Bella, with Martin’s story taking the primary position.  Really, this is a story about Martin and Bella is a bit player, albeit one whose back story is essential to the plot for her actions toward Martin to be in any way believable.  The author mentions the Madonna-whore complex early on in the story and all of the women presented here in any detail are indeed Madonnas (Edina, Martin’s mother, and Sarah, Martin’s wife) or whores (Bella, the Trophettes).  Bella’s early history, which the reader discovers at the end of the book, even indicates that she was a literal whore, working as a prostitute.  There was something unsettling about this for me, and I would have liked to have seen a few chapters written from Sarah’s point of view.  It seemed a little unfair to have such a focus on the man-slaying Bella and the existential crisis of Martin (post-mania) and so little focus on the woman who chooses to “stand by her man” as it were, despite the fact that he’s just undergone a major change in personality and behaviour.  In fact, had there been more of a focus on Sarah, this would have been a point that set this novel apart from the multitude that have gone before it; as important as the perspective of the sufferer of mental illness undeniably is, it would be instructive to read something from the point of view of the supporter – the spouse, significant other, family member – of the sufferer.

One thing that really does set this book apart is that it isn’t focused on talking therapy in any way.  Much is made in the early chapters of Martin’s past and the various tragedies and triumphs that shaped who he is.  I was expecting that this information would be somehow revisited later in the book as part of Martin’s recovery, but this wasn’t the case.  Instead, the section of the book dealing with Martin’s recovery is focused almost entirely on the various medications he is treated with, their side effects and the way they interact.  This may explain the slight disconnect I felt between the early parts of the story, in which Martin’s family and Sarah play such a strong role, and the latter parts, in which all of the key stressors and factors that almost certainly factored into Martin’s illness are glossed over in favour of his response to medication.  Even though it wasn’t what I was expecting, this certainly was a point of difference that makes this book stand apart from others on a similar topic.

The author may have even not-so-subtly inserted himself into the story by means of Saxon Marshall, Martin’s treating psychiatrist.  The name of this character struck me as interesting, and this may just be me receiving coded messages through the TV and novels here, but Saxon is the surname of the Master as played by John Simm in David Tennant’s run of Doctor Who, while Marshal is the given name of one of a psychiatrist character in Irvin Yalom’s Lying on the Couch (see below).  I can’t help but wonder if this was a conscious choice of character moniker and if so, what does it say about ol’ Gordon Parker, eh?  (**Probably not much because it’s probably not a conscious naming device, and just me projecting.  It should have been though – mashing the two characters together is quite evocative, imo**).

I was a little confused at the ending of the book.  There is an ambiguous ending for Martin, which I think worked well given we, as readers, leave him so soon after his diagnosis and early recovery.  It was a clever move to end his story at this point and leave us wondering what became of him.  More curious however was the ending of Bella’s narrative trajectory.  Toward the very end of the book, we are privy to even more of Bella’s backstory and the introduction of a new key character in Bella’s life.  I couldn’t get a grasp on why this was included, unless it was only to set up Martin’s ambiguous departure, because it certainly didn’t heighten my empathy for Bella in any way and felt like too much of an information dump after the climax of the story.

Having finished up the book, I had a quick flick through some similar books of my acquaintance and, as I mentioned at the beginning of the review, books featuring mental illness of one kind or another do tend to blend together after a while.  I definitely experienced shades of The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence (female protagonist with bipolar disorder), Terms and Conditions by Robert Glancy (professional male protagonist coming to terms with a change of identity concept and mental trauma), and most obviously, Irvin Yalom’s, Lying on the Couch (multiple psychiatrists go through various psychiatrist-y problems and as in all of Yalom’s work, boobs are mentioned a lot).

If you are looking for a truly original story about the whirlwind of depression, mania and psychosis, then I would suggest trying Kathleen Founds’ brilliant When Mystical Creatures Attack!  If you are an entry level journeyperson regarding novels about mental health or you have an interest in bipolar disorder, depression and mania generally, definitely give In Two Minds a go.

I’m submitting this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge for 2017 in category #51: a book about a difficult topic.  You can check out my progress toward that challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Library Larks: A Graphic Novel and a Picture Book after my own heart…

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It’s the first rule of book reviewing that when you are suffocating under a pile of books for review and finding less and less time to get to the review pile, the first thing you should do is go to the library and get more books.

It just makes sense really.

So, given that I am woefully behind in my review schedule and have no less than seven books to read and review by the end of next week, I decided it was only fitting to pop to the library and grab two more to bring to your attention.  I’m glad I did actually, despite the stirrings of guilt, because I thoroughly enjoyed both of my choices.

First I picked Leave Me Alone by Vera Brosgol, which I had had my eye on since it was first released and I found it featured an old lady protagonist, knitting and telling people to bugger off – incidentally, three of my favourite things.

leave me alone

Given that Brosgol is the author/illustrator of multi-award winning graphic novel Anya’s GhostI suspected that the illustrations here were going to be great.  They were. Brosgol’s style features clean lines, blocks of colour and some fantastic facial expressions.  Most of all, I just loved this book because it was so funny.  The old woman is the matriarch of a home with an excessive amount of small children and so it’s unsurprising that she doesn’t get much alone time in which to knit.  After tramping out of the village with naught but a shouted “Leave me alone!”, the old lady traipses off through a variety of unlikely environments until she can get some peace and quiet in which to work on her knitting.

My favourite part of the story is when the woman passes through a wormhole to avoid her latest pursuers.  Honestly, the line “She swept the void until it was a nice matte black” has got to be one of the best in children’s literature.

This one is going to become a keeper for us.  I am left with no option but to buy my own copy I liked this story so much.

I also requested Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez because it’s far cheaper to borrow all the graphic novels I want to read from the library than buying them.  nightlights

Despite being in large picture book format, this is undoubtedly a graphic novel aimed at middle grade readers and older.  The story revolves around Sandy, a young girl who loves to draw and has trouble focusing in class …or anywhere for that matter…due to the intense concentration she exerts while drawing.  When Sandy meets Morfi, a new girl, their friendship at first seems to be buoying for Sandy, but as time progresses and Morfi appears in Sandy’s dreams, things aren’t quite as peachy for the pair as they appear.  The author has slipped in a neat little solution to the problem that will require a bit of reasoning out on the part of younger readers, but is satisfyingly clever and opens the door for Sandy to throw off the shackles that are holding her back.

The colours in Sandy’s drawings are so eye-catching and lush that they’d look just as good stuck in a frame on your wall.  The scenes set in Sandy’s dreamscapes are just creepy enough to indicate danger, yet are also filled with tiny details that call out to be pored over.  I enjoyed this story a lot and I think its larger format will make it a great choice for primary (and secondary!) school libraries.

Now, back to the review pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

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

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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