Challenge Checkpoint: 25% into 2017

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Since we’re nearing the end of March, it’s time I fill you in on how I’m progressing on my multiple reading challenges for this year, because I know you’re dying to know all about it.  *Hint: If you’re that desperate, you can check here at any time to get all the goss*

Mount TBR Reading Challenge Checkpoint #1:

I am super pleased with how I’m going on this challenge.  My original goal was 12 books – or Pike’s Peak level – but at only three months in I’ve managed to knock over seven books, so I may upgrade to Mount Blanc level, which requires 24 books.  I’ll take stock again halfway through the year and make a decision then.

book-uncle-and-me chickenhare beastly-bones takeshita-demons return-of-zita time-travelling-with-a-hamster the-boyfriend

You’ll notice that some of these weren’t on my original list of books that I wanted to get through for this challenge:

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…but I still plan on having a crack at all the books pictured.  I’m having a bit of trouble with The Bromeliad.  I started it in January, but found my attention wandering so I’ve put it aside for the moment.  Hopefully I’ll get it knocked over before the end of the year.

Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge:

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This, of course, is the Shelf’s own homegrown challenge and I’m doing pretty well so far.  I’ve knocked over three of the seven categories so I’m well on track to finishing this one in plenty of time, provided I can remember what the other categories are.

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Colour-Coded Reading Challenge:

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I’m killing it with this one.  I decided to go with cover colours here, rather than colours in the titles because I’m already doing a title-based challenge with Wild Goose Chase.  I’ve knocked over every colour except brown, red and “implied colour” so far and I can’t foresee any troubles finding those colour books in the next nine months.  Here’s a selection of the covers so far.

time-travelling-with-a-hamster what-not-to-do-if-you-turn-invisible frogkisser deepdean-vampire ghosts-of-sleath book-uncle-and-me night shift ya

Popsugar Reading Challenge:

I’m not going too badly here, just taking it as it comes and occasionally checking back to see if my books match any categories.  So far I’ve knocked over books in ten of the fifty-two categories.

Epistolary Reading Challenge:

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This is my slowest challenge so far, with only two books read – and one of those books is a bit of a stretch to be honest.  I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for any epistolary novels being released soon and I’ve got one sitting on my shelf ready to step into the breach, but I’ll need to search out a few more to really feel like I’ve had a good go at this one.  Suggestions welcome!

How are you going on your various challenges for the year?  Do you track your progress regularly or are you a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of challengee?

Until next time,
Bruce

YAhoo! It’s a #LoveOzYA Review: Frogkisser!

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Frogkisser! 

Who could go past a title with such an alluring and obvious exclamation mark in the title?

Not us, that’s for sure.

Especially when it is penned by Australian YA and fantasy powerhouse Garth Nix.  We received a copy of Frogkisser! from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The Last Thing She Needs Is a Prince.

The First Thing She Needs Is Some Magic.

Poor Princess Anya. Forced to live with her evil stepmother’s new husband, her evil stepstepfather. Plagued with an unfortunate ability to break curses with a magic-assisted kiss. And forced to go on the run when her stepstepfather decides to make the kingdom entirely his own.

Aided by a loyal talking dog, a boy thief trapped in the body of a newt, and some extraordinarily mischievous wizards, Anya sets off on a Quest that, if she plays it right, will ultimately free her land-and teach her a thing or two about the use of power, the effectiveness of a well-placed pucker, and the finding of friends in places both high and low.

With Frogkisser!, acclaimed bestselling author Garth Nix has conjured a fantastical tale for all ages, full of laughs and danger, surprises and delights, and an immense population of frogs. It’s 50% fairy tale, 50% fantasy, and 100% pure enjoyment from start to finish.

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Although Nix’s work is often touted as YA, it fits just as neatly into the plain old fantasy category, to be enjoyed by readers of all ages.  Frogkisser! is no different in this regard, for while it features a reasonably young protagonist, it’s packed full of adult characters (temporarily transformed into animals and otherwise) and is reminiscent of the work of Terry Pratchet and Piers Anthony (although much less punny and of much higher quality than the latter).

Anya is the second-eldest princess in her castle which is ruled over by her stepmother and stepstepfather after the death of both her parents…at different times…which explains why she has two stepparents.  Her older sister Morven is due to inherit the kingdom of Trallonia and become ruler when she comes of age, but is reasonably vacuous and distracted by handsome princes, and their stepstepfather, the evil Duke, is using his sorcery to keep her that way so that he can take over the kingdom.  Anya, being another roadblock for the megalomaniacal Duke, leaves on a quest to transform one of Morven’s suitors, Prince Denholm, back from the frog form into which he has been spelled, and thus avoids (by a slim margin) being murdered in her bed.

The story features all the types of characters you’d expect from a comedy-fantasy, with talking royal dogs (my favourites), a thief-turned-into-a-newt, an otter turned into a human-otter-thing, good wizards, retired wizards, dwarves, giants, thieves and witches, among others.  The tone is light throughout, even during the suspenseful parts, and doused with dry humour (if it’s possible to be doused with dryness, that is).  The plot is quite episodic as these stories often are, with Anya having to meet and overcome a variety of quirky stumbling blocks along her road toward the ingredients for frog-transforming lip balm.

The best thing about this book is that Anya, initially, is completely out for number one – in a self-focused, rather than self-centred way – and along the way she must ponder whether or not it is worth it for her to get involved in the bigger issues facing the kingdoms and their citizens.  Issues about justice in governance, the rules of succession and the obligations of richer people to poorer people, for instance. Underlying the entertainment factors of fantasy and humour in the story is a subtle exploration of privilege, and the responsibilities (if any) that the more privileged in society have toward those without power and without the means to gain agency in their own lives.  Nix has been a bit clever here, popping such a topical issue neatly into a fun and fantastic jaunt through another world.

Tropes about princesses are both reinforced and turned on their head in the story, with Anya’s and Morven’s paths diverging, but in ways that make sense for the respective characters.  I actually understood Morven’s vibe to an extent, because we have our own Prince Maggers who turns up on our back deck most days to regale us with delightful tunes.

I enjoyed reading this story because of the familiarity of the humor and fantasy elements and the original, yet slightly expected, characters.  I mean, you can’t really have a fantasy quest without at least one animal transformed into a human or vice versa, can you? Having said that, Gerald the Herald (all of them) gave me a good chuckle every time he/she/they appeared. Frogkisser! is certainly a change of pace from Nix’s Abhorsen series but at the same time another worthy addition to Australian fantasy and YA writing.

I will be submitting this one for the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017.  You can check out my progress toward my reading challenges herehere!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Get Well Soon: A Five Things I’ve Learned Review…

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.aaaaand a Top Book of 2017 Pick!

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Today’s book is all about death and disease and as such, you wouldn’t necessarily think it would be all that enjoyable to read.  You would, however, be wrong.  Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright is a massively accessible nonfiction book with a conversational tone and enough humour to keep the (in some places) quite terrifying content, readable.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A humorous book about history’s worst plagues—from the Antonine Plague, to leprosy, to polio—and the heroes who fought them

In 1518, in a small town in France, Frau Troffea began dancing and didn’t stop. She danced herself to her death six days later, and soon thirty-four more villagers joined her. Then more. In a month more than 400 people had died from the mysterious dancing plague. In late-nineteenth-century England an eccentric gentleman founded the No Nose Club in his gracious townhome—a social club for those who had lost their noses, and other body parts, to the plague of syphilis for which there was then no cure. And in turn-of-the-century New York, an Irish cook caused two lethal outbreaks of typhoid fever, a case that transformed her into the notorious Typhoid Mary and led to historic medical breakthroughs.

Throughout time, humans have been terrified and fascinated by the plagues they’ve suffered from. Get Well Soon delivers the gruesome, morbid details of some of the worst plagues in human history, as well as stories of the heroic figures who fought to ease their suffering. With her signature mix of in-depth research and upbeat storytelling, and not a little dark humor, Jennifer Wright explores history’s most gripping and deadly outbreaks.

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And here are Five Things I’ve Learned From Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright:

1. The incredibly deadly Spanish Flu didn’t actually originate in Spain.

2. No matter what the disease, it never does anyone any good when a stigma is attached to those who carry it.

3.  Having a plague that makes you dance non-stop for hours (or days) at a time may sound like fun, until your bones start protruding through your skin just as “Blame it on the Boogie” comes on.

4. Indulging in an illicit romp with a lady of the night is all fun and games until  your nose (and probably hers also) falls off.

5. People actually queued up at one time in history to allow a madman to drill holes in their skulls, in the hope that it would provide a cure for their assorted maladies.

I can’t remember when I last giggled so much while reading about infectious disease as I did while reading this book.  In terms of making nonfiction books accessible, Wright has done a bang-up job here with a narrative style that is light – but never makes light – despite content that can result in some pretty sobering reading.  The humour in this book is almost a necessary vent for the anger and sadness and bafflement some readers may experience while finding out about the ways in which some very sick people – as well as the people who tried to help them – were treated at various points throughout history.

The book covers various plagues in separate sections and includes famous plagues, such as the Black Death, Spanish Influenza, and Polio, alongside lesser known ailments such as the dancing plague mentioned in the blurb, the “plague” of lobotomies orchestrated by William Jackson Freeman III and the plague of Encephalitis Lethargia, which results in the loss of any kind of emotion or motivation and leaves sufferers, in some cases, like living corpses.  Part of the focus of the book is on how authorities and others dealt with these diseases when they first appeared and how this action or inaction affected the disease’s spread.  It’s fascinating to see how the work of some individuals and groups to gain evidence for the causes of certain diseases – cholera being a case in point – was pooh-poohed (pardon the pun) by the authorities and scientific community even in the face of growing numbers of people contracting the disease.

I suspect this book won’t necessarily cut it for those hoping for a scientific look at plagues and their causes, but for the casual reader and those interested in social responses to medical disasters, the book will provide enough information to be going on with.  The style of writing feels like narrative nonfiction, in part because of the way in which the author has highlighted the individuals involved in the outbreaks of each specific disease.  While the use of the term “heroes” to describe these people feels a bit twee to me, I appreciate the fact that these people should be acknowledged and possibly lauded as household names more than they usually are.

My favourite part of the book was the section dealing with Spanish influenza, simply because of the dastardly bad timing that meant this disease came to prominence at the same time as World War 1, leading to catastrophic breakdowns in communication between authorities and the general public that, had this been different, could have saved many lives.  Looking back on the content, I was mildly disappointed that the Ebola virus was not included in the list of diseases, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

If you, like me, enjoy reading about major global disasters in a style that won’t freak you out too badly or exacerbate general feelings of anxiety about the state of the world, this would definitely be one to add to your TBR.

Oh, and I’m adding this to my  Colour Coded Challenge as well.  Check out my progress here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Adult Fiction Review: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day…

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Today’s book is an original ghostly tale that delves into the question, “if your afterlife was spent stuck on Earth, how would you spend it?”  The characters in this story answer that question in a range of ways that you might not expect.  We received a copy of Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire from the publisher via Netgalley, and I will be submitting it for the Colour-Coded Reading Challenge 2017 and the PopSugar Reading Challenge, under the category of a book from a non-human perspective.  You can check out my progress toward my challenges here.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Considering that, at its heart, Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a ghost story, there is a significant amount of philosophising about the nature of life and the meaning of atonement in this book.

This is not a bad thing.

In fact, it gives what could have been a basic urban fantasy (or urban paranormal, possibly) story a deeper element on which to ponder.

I found Jenna to be an immediately likable narrator.  Having accidentally met her own death while grieving after the suicide of her older sister, Jenna spends her afterlife working on a volunteer suicide prevention hotline in order to avoid other families having to experience the death of a loved one by their own hand.  In doing so, Jenna is “earning” her way towards her final death – the day on which she was intended to die, had she not run out into a lightning storm and been prematurely frazzled.

The early parts of the book are heavy with world-building, because the author has set up specific rules regarding the type of person who can become a ghost, what ghosts can affect in the living world and why some ghosts have been around longer than others.  In fact, the bulk of the story involves Jenna finding out more about the laws that govern her afterlife, as ghosts start disappearing and her semi-comfortable existence begins to crumble.  For those who like a fantasy twist in their paranormal, McGuire’s world also includes witches (who can be male or female), whose powers link them to a particular object, be it organic or built, and shape how that power might be wielded.

The characters are the strong suit of this particular story, with Jenna ably accompanied by Delia, an elderly ghost who provides cheap housing for both living and dead tenants, Sophie, a homeless young woman with an affinity for rodents, and Brenda, a corn witch who has made Manhattan her home.  This is definitely as much a story of relationships and social connections as it is a ghost story.

After all the build up and time spent developing the afterlife concept at the beginning of the book, the resolution came along quite quickly and was all tied up in record time, which surprised me a little.  Having said that, I was quite satisfied with the pace of the final chapters because there is nothing worse than having a book drag out the denouement when there is no need to do so.  There is plenty of action and some unexpected reveals regarding who is behind the ghostly disappearances that I certainly didn’t see coming and by the end of the book, Jenna comes to terms with her misplaced guilt regarding her role in her sister’s death.

While I didn’t find this to be an absolutely stellar read, it was certainly original and had a tone that will appeal to those who enjoy books about female and family relationships, as much as those who enjoy paranormal and fantasy stories.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: Beastly Bones…

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Welcome to our first murderous Monday for the year!  I have taken the liberty of choosing a murder mystery out of left field for today because it also allows me to knock another book off my Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2017 and my Colour-coded Reading Challenge, both of which are hosted by Bev at My Reader’s Block.  Beastly Bones is the second book in the Jackaby series by William Ritter, a historical mystery series with a paranormal twist. You can see our review of the first book here – I’m surprised that it’s actually been two and a quarter years between drinks for me and this series!  Anyway, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

I’ve found very little about private detective R. F. Jackaby to be standard in the time I’ve known him. Working as his assistant tends to call for a somewhat flexible relationship with reality . . .

In 1892, New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, are called upon to investigate the supernatural. First, members of a particularly vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens. A day later, their owner is found murdered, with a single mysterious puncture wound to her neck. Then, in nearby Gad’s Valley, dinosaur bones from a recent dig go missing, and an unidentifiable beast attacks animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Policeman Charlie Cane, exiled from New Fiddleham to the valley, calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer.

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Plot Summary:

Abigail and Jackaby are called in to consult when a lady’s cats seem to be morphing into another species entirely. When said lady is found dead within days of the visit, the pair are drawn into a mystery that may have explosive consequences.

The Usual Suspects:

Not being your typical murder mystery, there is really only one suspect in the murders here and that suspect can be described as having at least two long, piercing fangs.  Or a particularly deadly set of cocktail forks.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

This is what annoyed me most about this book.  The hunt for the murderer/s, and indeed the murders themselves, took a backseat to the matter of the “beastly bones”, an archaeological dig that quickly turns mythological.  By the end of the book we are none the wiser as to who the murderer is, and the murders of this book look like they will end up being solved in the next book in the series.

Overall Rating:

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Two poison bottles for the fleeting sensation of discovery before it evaporates in the face of distraction from shiny things

I was disappointed with this book.  It lacked the charm and novelty of the first book in the series, and, most dispiriting of all, the most interesting parts of the book – the inexplicable murder and Jenny the ghost’s complete freakout – are completely ignored in favour of mythical beast hunting.  I found the middle section of the book, which dealt with the discovery of gigantic, mystery fossils to be interminably boring and it seemed particularly odd that the author spent so much time developing the characters and backstory of the two archaeologists in the story at the expense of developing suspense or highlighting the murders connected with the archaeological dig.

The final few chapters do bring things back into line and the protagonists finally see their way to making strides on the murders and who might be behind them.  This was the best part of the book for me because even though it was only a chapter or two, the suspense was suddenly back.  While this offering was a big thumbs down generally from me, I am excited to see what happens in the third book because there are hints that Jackaby and Rook will be back on the trail of deadly, secretive murderers, or at least finding out more about Jenny the ghost, rather than gadding about in the dirt with bones.

The third book in the series, Ghostly Echoes, is already out.

To make up for bringing you a book I’m not overly enthusiastic about this month, next month I will have TWO murderous Mondays for you.

You can check out my progress toward my various reading challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

TBR Friday: Book Uncle and Me

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TBR Friday

Welcome to my first TBR Friday for 2017!  I have made it a goal to read at least one book from my TBR stack each month, with a goal of completing Pike’s Peak level – 12 books – on Bev’s Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017 by the end of the year.  Today’s book is not only going to count toward that challenge, but also Bev’s Colour Coded Challenge, the Epistolary Reading Challenge AND the PopSugar Reading Challenge in category five: a book written by a person of colour!  Boom!

Today’s book is Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Nine-year-old Yasmin intends to read a book a day for the rest of her life. Book Uncle, who runs a free lending library on the street corner, always has the perfect book for her. But when Book Uncle seems to be in trouble, Yasmin has to take her nose out of her book and do something. With the elections coming up and the grown-ups busy with their own affairs, what difference can Yasmin and her friends possibly make? Will they get help from Karate Samuel, the eccentric superstar who’s standing for Mayor? Yasmin gets to work, ideas begin to fly like feathers, and soon everything starts to spin – out of control.

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Ten Second Synopsis:
Yasmin has a goal to read a book a day for the rest of her life, ably aided by Book Uncle, the man who runs a free little lending library on the corner of Yasmin’s street. When Book Uncle receives a notice from the Council that he must close his book stand, Yasmin must find a way to change Council’s mind and bring books back to her community.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

About six months or so.

Acquired:

Purchased from Booktopia’s bargain section after recently having put it on my TBR list.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

It’s short, easily readable and therefore easy to ignore.

Best Bits:

  • Even though this is a short book, it’s chock full of underlying social issues and culturally interesting elements just ripe for discussion by young readers
  • Yasmin is delightfully flawed and determined and compassionate and an all around charming heroine.  She speaks without thinking, then feels guilty for it, then tries to rectify her mistakes, then manages to mobilise a whole lot of strangers to her cause simply through her passion for it. If you are looking for realistic female protagonists in early chapter books, then look no further!
  • This book celebrates books and the people who read them.  It celebrates the power of books to change people’s lives in big and small ways, and to bring people together who otherwise have little in common.
  • This book wasn’t written to be a “diverse” book, but if you aren’t an Indian person reading it, it certainly fulfills that criteria.  The story itself is completely transferable to any Western classroom in which civic education is a priority, but there are also lots of parts of the story that will inspire discussion about difference – particularly issues of access to free lending library resources and election processes.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • None.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Yes.

Where to now for this tome?

I may donate this one to the mini-fleshling’s school library.

If you would like to check out my progress in each of my various challenges you can check them out in the links in the header, under 2017 Challenges

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Until next time,

Bruce

 

The Case of the Deepdean Vampire: A Mini Mystery…

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It’s time to check back in with everyone’s favourite girlish detectives, Daisy and Hazel, in this second novella (but fourth-and-a-half offering in the series), The Case of the Deepdean Vampire by Robin Stevens.  I’m very glad that these novellas exist because they at least keep me in touch with the series given that I’m now three books behind since the announcement of an April 6th release date for Cream Buns and Crime, an anthology of Daisy and Hazel short stories.  Anyhow, “just keep plodding along” is my motto for these books, so here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Of all the mysteries that Hazel and I have investigated, the Case of the Deepdean Vampire was one of the strangest. It was not a murder, which was a pity – but I did solve it very cleverly, and so I decided it ought to be written down, so that other people could read it and be impressed.

Camilla Badescu is in the fifth form, and has pale skin, dark hair and red lips. She comes from Romania (which is practically Transylvania). She doesn’t eat at meals. And she seemed to have an unhealthy influence over another pupil, Amy Jessop. Now, I do not believe in vampires – I am the Honourable Daisy Wells, after all. But when I heard the rumour that Camilla was seen climbing head-first down a wall, I knew it was time to investigate…

Much like The Case of the Blue Violet, the other novella in this series, The Case of the Deepdean Vampire is a bite-sized snack of a mystery, narrated by Daisy, rather than Hazel, who is the narrator of the full length novels.  In this particular novella, Daisy recounts her triumphant solving of a case that has the Deepdean girls all of a dither: is Camilla really a vampire? And if not, how can one explain the, frankly, supernatural behaviour that she has been exhibiting of late?  Of course Daisy, being a natural skeptic, manages to confound any latent whisperings of vampirism by performing some quite spectacular physical feats and making the links that others have failed to notice.

I have to say that I didn’t find this one quite as engaging as a short story as the Blue Violet, simply because the premise was hinged on a supernatural phenomenon and readers of this series will know that supernatural happenings are not an accepted part of the deal.  From that standpoint then, the mystery could only have a perfectly ordinary explanation and when it came it wasn’t quite as exciting or tricky as I was hoping it might be.  I felt a little as if there hadn’t been enough clues left out for canny readers to solve this one themselves, so wasn’t quite as invested in the reveal as I may have otherwise been.

So while not the most gripping of the girls’ adventures so far, this is still a fun interlude between books for fans of Daisy and Hazel and the Detective Society.

I’m submitting this book for the Colour Coded Challenge 2017, progress toward which you can see here.

Until next time,

Bruce