Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Yetis, Ants and Unruly Hair…

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It’s a Bloomsbury Australia triple-dipping rodeo today with three new release picture books guaranteed to delight and amaze your mini-fleshlings!  Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copies.

I’m Going to Eat This Ant (Chirs Naylor-Ballesteros)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  i am going to eat this ant

A hungry ant-eater is determined to eat an ant but has trouble deciding which delicious method he will use to prepare his snack. Meanwhile, the ants have ideas of their own and anteater’s snack isn’t going to be quite so easy as that!

Muster up the motivation because…

…from the seriously sinister look on the anteater’s face to the enormously imaginative ways that he dreams up to prepare his ant meal, young readers will be able to tell at a glance that the main character of this book is one nasty customer.  The creative culinary mind of said anteater, while inexplicably fixated on the letter “s”, takes in every possible method of food preparation, from sauteeing, to smoking, sandwiches to drinks with straws.  One of the highlights of the book is surely the look on the unlucky ant’s face as he is mentally sloshed in sauce and sizzled on a stick.  Our favourite page would have to be that on which the poor little ant is depicted sliced like a salami – I will always marvel at how illustrators manage to convey so much emotion with just a few slashes of line!  We particularly enjoyed the final endpapers depicting the ants marching along with all the anteater’s imagined foodstuffs and utensils…and the cheeky surprise as you turn over the very last endpaper page!  As the methods of dispatching the ant become nastier and nastier, it was somewhat of a relief to note that the other ants in the nest have a cunning plan to save their comrade and see off the nasty anteater.  The ending will no doubt have mini-fleshlings cheering as the anteater gets his comeuppance.  This is a wickedly funny picture book for young ones who enjoy subversive humour.

Brand it with:

Ant-i-establishment; the circle of life; alliterative eats

Henry and the Yeti (Russell Ayto)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  henry and the yeti

Nobody believes Henry when he says he is off to find a Yeti. With determination, a little mountain climbing and his trusty camera, Henry is sure that he can provide the evidence his headteacher needs to prove that Yetis exist.

Muster up the motivation because…

…summing up the oft-touted exhortation of “pictures or it didn’t happen”, this story is a fun, reverse take on the fable of the boy who cried wolf.  Rather than pretending that something exists when it doesn’t, Henry is adamant that Yetis are real and what’s more, he is prepared to put his money where his mouth is and go on an expedition to prove it.  Young readers will no doubt find something to relate to in the early scenes of the book, in which Henry is ridiculed for believing in something so outlandish, but with determination and his trusty camera by his side (for evidence, of course) Henry backs himself and sets off to glory and beyond.  After a mishap with his camera however, it looks like Henry’s successful mission might be in jeopardy…but a friend in need is a friend indeed and a surprising ally turns up in the nick of time to support Henry’s claims.  This story is replete with dry humour – “Now the headteacher is having a little lie down” says the text, with the illustrations showing that he has clearly fainted – and bears a wonderful message about believing in yourself.  We particularly enjoyed the fact that the illustrator didn’t overstretch himself in creating the character of the Yeti.  (That was dry humour too).

Brand it with:

Cryptozooloogy in the classroom; documentary evidence; expeditionary forces

I Don’t Want Curly Hair (Laura Ellen Anderson)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  curly hair

A girl with unruly curls tries everything to make her hair straight, with no success.  Upon meeting someone with a different outlook, both girls start to appreciate what they have.

Muster up the motivation because…

…it’s the age old tale of wanting something that everyone else has, before finding out that what you have ain’t so bad after all.  This isn’t the most original picture book getting around the place – which is surprising, given that Anderson is the creator of The Phoenix magazine’s brilliant Evil Emperor Penguin comic series – but its message, and the protagonist’s daily struggles to tame her wild curls, will be familiar to anyone who has ever tried to brush a child’s curly hair without the assistance of a detangling spray, detangling brush and several litres of spray-on hair anaesthetic.  The rhyming text and the inventive ways that the girl comes up with to solve her curly problem will have little ones entranced and giggling along and the ending clearly demonstrates how the greener grass – or in this case, the straighter hair – isn’t necessariily the boon that our protagonist thinks it is.  Overall, this story has been done before, many times, but the humour and rhyming text make this worth a look if you have a mini-fleshling with wild, untamed curls.

Brand it with:

Getting things straight; tangled tales; opposites attract

I hope you’ve found something to herd into your book-pen!  What have you been rounding up to read lately?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Picture Books for Lovers of Libraries, Ballet, Gardeners and Girls with BIG IDEAS…

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Cheerio me hearties!  I’m a little bit behind on my review schedule this week, so apologies that you had to wait two extra days for this round up of worthy picture books.  Since there’s no time to waste we’re going to ride straight in – yaa!

The Night Gardener (Terry & Eric Fan)

*We received a copy of The Night Gardener from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:

 

William looks out his window one night to discover that the hedge in the yard has been sculpted into a beautiful owl shape.  As the days continue, more hedge shapes appear around the town until William discovers the secret and begins to share in the work of the night gardener.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is an atmospheric picture book with a story that unfolds through the imagery as much as the text.  Not to be confused with Jonathan Auxier’s middle grade novel of the same name, this book contains many visual cues and clues for the keen-eyed reader to collect on the way to a charming finish.  The palette of deep greens and blues, alternating with sepia page spreads highlights both the sense of mysterious night-time gardening and the historical setting of the characters.  The colour palette changes as the story progresses and we are treated to the glorious browns and golds of autumn, the sweeping whites and greys of winter and the bright, busy colours of spring and summer by the end of the tale.  The mini-fleshlings were mildly interested in the story of William discovering the identity of the night gardener and taking on the secret himself, but were entranced by the illustrations.  This edition came with a dust jacket featuring the cover image above, that hid a beautifully etched drawing of leaves and lawn tools on the hardback cover, and some gorgeous line-drawn endpapers.  The Night Gardener is a visual feast and will bring to life the sense of adventure that goes along with discovering a secret for your mini-fleshlings.

Brand it with:

Terrific topiary; hedging one’s bets; walks in the moonlight

Lucy’s Book (Natalie Jane Prior & Cheryl Orsini)

*We received a copy of Lucy’s Book from Hachette Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:

 

Lucy loves visiting the library and always checks out her favourite book.  When Lucy tells her friends about the book, they check it out too and take it on all sorts of adventures…until the book is no longer able to be borrowed.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is one for the book lovers, the library lovers and the lovers of unexpected discoveries that stay with us forever.  If you’ve ever had the experience of finding a wonderful book at the library and have had to come to terms with the fact that other people are also allowed to borrow it, take it away and – gasp! – possibly damage it, you will definitely relate to Lucy here.  As well as the immense joy that Lucy gets from sharing her favourite story with her friends, and thus multiplying the level of joy she finds in the book, there is also the lingering sense of irritation that she doesn’t get to have the book with her all the time.  When Lucy arrives at the library one day to find that the book is no longer in circulation, and subsequently, out of print – oh the horror! – Lucy discovers that while other books and stories may temporarily fill the gap in Lucy’s bookshelf, nothing will ever plug the special story-shaped hole in her heart that the disappearance of her favourite book has left.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it will restore your faith in the support found in the bookish community and have you believing the claptrap that The Secret tries to have us believe.  This is definitely one for the mini-fleshling of your acquaintance who has that special appreciation of time spent with a favourite story.

Brand it with:

Lost and found; Try Abebooks; Neverending book club

Little People, Big Dreams: Marie Curie (Isabel Sanchez Vegara & Frau Isa)

Little People, Big Dreams: Agatha Christie (Isabel Sanchez Vegara & Elisa Munso)

*We received copies of both of these titles from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

 

These two books are from a series of narrative nonfiction picture books about the lives of famous women.  Other books in the series focus on the lives of Maya Angelou, Emilia Earhart, Ella Fitzgerald, Audrey Hepburn, Frida Kahlo and Coco Chanel.  You can check out the full list of titles at Goodreads here.

Muster up the motivation because…

…these little gems are the perfect way to introduce mini-fleshlings to the biography format and the lives of some truly inspirational ladies in an engaging way.  I originally requested the Agatha Christie one for obvious reasons, but was sent both and I am highly impressed by the quality of information and the gorgeous illustrative styles. Each book seems to be illustrated by a different person, so while the books are part of a series, each book has its own individual style.

agatha-christie

Little People, BIG DREAMS: Agatha Christie by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Elisa Munso.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 22nd February 2017.  RRP: $18.99

 

Agatha Christie’s edition relies heavily on black and white with splashes of red and a certain Deco flair.  I particularly enjoyed the page recounting the number of books Christie wrote, accompanied by an image of the lady herself looking over a field of tombstones – each carved with the name of a victim from her novels!  Marie Curie’s edition is awash in shades of blue, green and brown and cleverly, yet subtly, highlights the struggles of Curie as a woman making her way in science.  I actually learned a lot from this little picture book.  I knew the basics of Curie’s life of course – her work in discovering radium and so forth – but expanded my general knowledge in discovering that she is the only woman to have so far won two Nobel Prizes in two separate subjects – Chemistry and Physics.  Each book also includes a short timeline at the end featuring actual photos of the women along with some important dates in their lives and a quick overview of their lives in traditional non-fiction style.  If you have a mini-fleshling about the place who is interested in nonfiction (or even one who isn’t, because these don’t read like your typical nonfiction picture books), you should definitely leave some of these lying around in plain sight.

Brand it with:

All the awesome ladies; little people, big brains; narrative nonfiction

Where’s the Ballerina? (Anna Claybourne & Abigail Goh)

*We received a copy of Where’s the Ballerina? from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

wheres-the-ballerina

Where’s the Ballerina? Find the Hidden Ballerina in the Ballets by Anna Claybourne and Abigail Goh.  Published by Allen & Unwin (HardieGrantEgmont), 25th January, 2017.  RRP: $19.99

If you have been waiting for the day when information about classical ballets is combined with a search and find picture book, then wait no longer!  This book retells the stories behind famous ballets from around the world along with fun search and find scenes related to each ballet.

Muster up the motivation because…

…as well as a fun search and find book, this book cleverly provides brief, illustrated retellings of famous ballets from around the world.  From Swan Lake and the Nutcracker to India’s La Bayadere and Spain’s Don Quixote, each ballet is retold in a beautiful double page spread, and followed by an eye-popping double page illustration in which mini-fleshlings are encouraged to find particular characters.  The double page illustrations bring to life the colours and settings of each ballet, so young readers can clearly see the differences in each story and come to understand that not all ballet involves pink tutus and dying swans.  This would be a fantastic gift book for a young one who is entranced by dance and wants to know more about ballet in particular, while enjoying a fun activity at the same time.  Similarly, this would be a great book for a classroom library, to trick  entice youngsters in with a search-and-find activity before they realise they are actually learning something.

Brand it with:

Dance like someone’s scrutinising every page; international ballet; fun with tutus

Clearly you will forgive my lateness in posting given how stunning these titles are and I will graciously accept that forgiveness and promise not to get behind on my schedule again.  Until the next time I have too many books and not enough time.

Tally ho my friends!

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Picture Books for the Open Minded…

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Saddle up my friends, because I have four picture books for you today that will open your mind, test your heart and generally stretch your imagination!  Let’s ride on in!

A Perfect Day (Lane Smith)

*We received a copy of A Perfect Day from PanMacmillan Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  a perfect day.jpg

As a collection of animals and one young boy go about an ordinary day, they all seem to find the one thing that makes them most happy.  Until, that is, a big hairy bear comes along to spoil the perfection.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is one picture book that proves that perfection depends entirely on perspective.  The beautiful pastel palette of the illustrations reinforces the gentle unfolding of an ordinary day, made special by the simple things.  Of course, in the second half of the book, things become a lot less perfect – unless you’re a big burly bear looking for somewhere to snack, play and nap of course – and there’s a certain delight in seeing the bear making dirt angels in the flowerbed, splashing in the wading pool, flashing a corn-cob smile and generally enjoying himself in a bearish fashion.  The emphasis provided by the font as bear spends his leisure time inadvertently ruining everyone else’s also contributes to the humour and would be perfect for teaching younger independent readers how to take cues from the text when reading aloud.  The final illustration depicting the animals and little boy inside the house looking out, accompanied by the text, “It was a perfect day for bear,” opens up the text for conversation with little ones about how the other characters might feel.  The edition I have received shows a similar image to that of the last page as its cover and I think this image gives a better sense of the book’s content than the one above.  All up, this is a delightful reading experience that is visually appealing and the perfect choice for sharing a gentle giggle before bed.

Brand it with:

Bears in them there hills; Bear necessities; simple pleasures

Old Pig (Margaret Wild & Ron Brooks)

*We received a copy of Old Pig from Allen & Unwin Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

A grandmother and granddaughter pig share their days and nights in a comforting rhythm of chores, food and relaxation.  When grandmother pig begins slowing down, the two confront together the spectre of a final goodbye.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this 20th anniversary edition classic children’s tale is almost achingly poignant in places and deftly broaches that hardest of topics, the death of a loved one.  As it becomes apparent that Grandmother Pig is facing her final days, the two pigs take solace in spending time together and appreciating the small, simple things in life and the rhythms of each day.  While death isn’t explicitly mentioned, it is obvious that the book is about leaving and leaving behind.  The final illustration, featuring granddaughter pig on her own is awash with hope, and allows the reader to leave the story on an uplifting note.  As much as this story would be a useful tool in gently opening up discussions with young readers about reality of death, it is also a celebration of a life well lived and the connections that we make with those dear to us.  If this book doesn’t tug at your heartstrings and make you appreciate the small moments of joy in the mundane, then you must have a colder, stonier heart than even I do.

Brand it with:

Grief, sensitively handled; quality of life; inter-generational connections

There’s a Tiger in the Garden (Lizzy Stewart)

*We received a copy of There’s a Tiger in the Garden from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  theres-a-tiger-in-the-garden

In an attempt to cure her granddaughter’s boredom, a grandmother casually mentions that there is a tiger in her garden.  The resulting, fruitful search is enough to dent the certainty of even the most sceptical of child explorers!

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is the kind of book that will have you doing exercises to expand your imagination.  While the concept of children “discovering” untapped worlds in the garden isn’t new to picture books, the ambiguous ending of this story provides a fun twist.  As Nora and Jeff (her toy giraffe) take a turn about the garden, the illustrations become more and more detailed and jungle-like, blending a sense of magical realism with the richly coloured sense of adventure inherent in nature in all its glory.  The deep greens that permeate most of the illustrations are so lush and inviting that I just couldn’t help plunging on in to this story. Within Nora’s imagination, her grandma’s small garden morphs into the home of butterflies the size of birds, a grumpy polar bear fishing in the pond and some extremely robust (and hungry) plants.  Young readers will love trying to spot the tiger in the earlier pages of the book and there is plenty of visual humour for older ones to notice and enjoy also.  If you have a young explorer in your midst, they will revel in this tale that celebrates things that are more than they seem on the surface.

Brand it with:

Wild green yonder; imagine that; grandma’s secret garden

My Friend Tertius (Corinne Fenton & Owen Swan)

*We received a copy of this title from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:

my-friend-tertius

My Friend Tertius by Corinne Fenton & Owen Swan.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 22 February 2016.  RRP: $24.99

A WWII code breaker working in Singapore for the British takes a gibbon for a pet.  When the war forces him to leave Singapore, he makes the decision not to abandon his friend, but smuggle him along on the journey.

Muster up the motivation because…

…for one thing, there certainly is a dearth of war related picture books featuring a gibbon on the market, so My Friend Tertius fills that niche nicely. The washed out colour palette is reminiscent of the tropical heat of the southern hemisphere, and there are many historical clues hidden in the pictures for keen-eyed young readers to inquire about – the radio set in Arthur’s room for instance, Arthur’s neatly initialed gladstone bag and the fact that most pictures of people show at least somebody smoking a cigarette.  This was a bit of a strange beast of a tale for me – on one hand, it is fascinating, unexpected and had me immediately questioning the hows and whys of the story. On the other, the picture book format meant that I didn’t get the answers I was looking for. The narrative begins abruptly with a question that presupposes a knowledge of the social context of war generally – that people might have to leave – and the War in the Pacific specifically – that people did have to leave Singapore, with or without their loved ones.  The book has no afterword giving more information about Arthur Cooper and the eventual fate of either man or gibbon, and the book finishes on the rather cryptic statement “He [Tertius] taught me how to love.”  This is cryptic because nowhere in the previous pages of the book is there any mention of Arthur having any particular difficulty with human emotions, so I found myself asking, “How? How did he teach you to love? And why didn’t you know how to love in the first place?!” These questions, as well as my inner pedant’s shock at Arthur’s laissez faire attitude toward animal quarantine issues, meant that this wasn’t a particularly satisfying read for me as an adult reader, and I wonder how it might be received by the upper primary age range for which it is intended.  To be honest, I would have loved to have seen this story told in a chapter book format because I suspect there is so much more to the story than is being shown, and it is a pity not to be privy to it.

Brand it with:

Monkey business; BFFs in wartime; gibbons on the run

Bet you weren’t expecting any of those mind expanding picture books, were you?  I hope there is something here that tickles your synapses and causes you to add it to your TBR pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Three for A New Year

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For the second day of the new year, I present to you an overload of books.  Well, not an overload, but given that it’s only day two of 2017 and I have three books for you, less voracious readers than ourselves may consider it a bit excessive.  I have a YA contemporary set in Paris, a middle grade series continuation and a middle grade fantasy adventure about identity and chocolate.  So for the first time in 2017, let’s saddle up and ride on in!

Lisette’s Paris Notebook (Catherine Bateson)

*We received a copy of Lisette’s Paris Notebook from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

lisettes-paris-notebook

Lisette’s Paris Notebook by Catherine Bateson.  Published by Allen & Unwin, January 3rd, 2017.  RRP: $16.99

Lisette (Lise) is taking a gap year in Paris and staying with her mother’s friend, a clairvoyant. While in Paris she meets some interesting people through her imposed French language class.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you’re in the mood for a languid yet exotic holiday that evokes feelings of romance, European style and new experiences, but don’t have the money to afford such a holiday, Lisette’s Paris Notebook could be the next best thing.  Lise is young, ready for adventure and raring to stamp her own style on the world’s capital of haute couture and finds herself cramped in a tiny bedsit above a clairvoyant’s storefront.  While Paris doesn’t immediately turn out to be what she expected, Lise nevertheless commits to attending a French language class as a small concession to her mother’s dreams for her.  The class is filled with college-aged art students from around the world and Lise is both attracted to and intimidated by the easy style and sophistication of her classmates.  I will admit to DNFing this one about halfway through, at 144 pages – chapter 14 – not because the story was bad, but because I just don’t think I’m the intended audience for the book, not being a massive contemporary fan.   The only thing that had me cringing a bit was the fact that all the French characters that I encountered seemed to be weirdly stereotyped – abrupt to the point of rudeness, dismissive of other cultures or ways of doing things and set in their ideas about what one should do in France.  I’m not entirely sure what that was about, or whether it changes later on in the book, but I found it set my teeth on edge a bit.  Ardent fans of contemporary YA, and especially YA that borders on new adult and features coming-of-age issues and themes of identity should find lots to enjoy here.  The tone is light, there are some funny situations and generally this fits the bill as a relaxing, escapist holiday read.

Brand it with:

Enchante!; new adventures; fun with fashion

The Thornthwaite Betrayal (Gareth P. Jones)

*We received a copy of The Thornthwaite Betrayal from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

thornthwaite-betrayal

The Thornthwaite Betrayal by Gareth P. Jones.  Published by Allen & Unwin, January 3rd, 2017.  RRP: $16.99

Siblings who have previously enjoyed plotting each other’s demise have called a truce, when a long lost uncle turns up to make a claim on their ancestral home.  Mistrust ensues, as well as some new found interest in friendship with others, on the part of the twins.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is the second book following on from The Thornthwaite Inheritance, in which Ovid and Lorelli Thornthwaite enjoy attempting to kill each other – must be a twin thing – and their manor ends up being burnt down.  Unfortunately, I have not read the previous book, even though it’s been on my TBR list for quite some time, and it is this single factor that led to my putting down The Thornthwaite Betrayal after 44 pages. I’m generally a fan of Jones’ work – Constable and Toop and Death by Ice Cream being two of his back catalogue that I thoroughly enjoyed – but found this one hard to get into simply because I didn’t have the context of the previous book to draw on.  Some of the characters in this second book obviously made an appearance in the previous one, and some characters from the previous book are mentioned, but I really needed a bit more background information to get a picture of what exactly was going on and how the characters were linked.  Also, given that the thing that would draw me in most about these books is the idea of murderous twins, the fact that the twins weren’t being particularly murderous in the part of this I read meant that some of the expected shine was missing.  I will have to go back and read the first story before I can make proper comment on this one, I think.

Brand it with:

It’s a twin thing; long lost relatives; personal growth

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (Stephanie Burgis)

*We received a copy of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart from Bloomsbury Publishing via Netgalley for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  dragon-with-a-chocolate-heart

A dragon ventures out of her cave to show her parents she can make it on her own and ends up inadvertently being turned into a human. She then does what any spell-cursed dragon would do: become an apprentice to a chocolatier.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you are looking for a fantasy tale that has an original premise and is guaranteed to appeal to any foodie fans in your life, this is the book for you!  The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart blends a dragon dynasty with a nasty spell, a class-based society and business competition to create a completely new storyline in middle grade fantasy reads.  Aventurine is a dragon who inadvertently falls under the spell of a food mage and is trapped in a human body.  After tasting chocolate for the first time, the determined girl (ex-dragon!) decides that if she must be trapped in a puny human body, the least she can do is apprentice herself to a chocolatier and learn the finer arts of creating her new favourite food.  The “dragon” part of the story takes a bit of a backseat during this time as Aventurine learns to navigate the human world and its unfamiliar trappings – two of which being human friendships and social interactions – until her family turns up wanting their darling dragon back and Aventurine’s temporary home is in the firing line.  While the story is undoubtedly fresh and original, my overall feeling while reading was that this is a strange sort of tale that can’t quite decide whether it should be a fish-out-of-water fantasy or a being-true-to-oneself friendship story.  While Aventurine is human, the very human experiences of friendship, betrayal, manipulation and position in society play a major role, and even if Aventurine herself never forgot her inner-dragonness, I certainly did at some points during the book, which meant that the story didn’t reach the heights of brilliance for me at any stage.  Nevertheless, I always welcome fresh takes on familiar tropes in middle grade fiction and Burgis has certainly delivered on that score.

Brand it with:

Feral foodies; master’s apprentices; fish out of water

Two days into the new year and three new books for you to hunt down: surely one of these titles takes your fancy?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Middle Grade Ripping Reads” Edition…

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Yeeeeeeehaaaaah!  I have some absolutely ripping reads to round up with you today, all of them pitched at a middle grade or early YA age group.  Excitingly, I’ve also stumbled across a fantastic, new-to-me indie fantasy series that I will share with you too!  I’m so excited I might pop my chaps!  Let’s ride on in!

Trollhunters (Guillermo Del Toro & Daniel Kraus)

*We received a copy of Trollhunters from Allen & Unwin for review*

trollhunters-red

Trollhunters by Guillermo Del Toro & Daniel Kraus. Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November, 2016. RRP: $16.99

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Jim Jnr knows that the reason his dad is so overprotective has to do with what happened with his uncle forty years ago, but locks, alarms and curfews won’t stop what’s coming for Jim now.

Muster up the motivation because…

…Whoa there!

Hold Up!

In case you feel like you are experiencing deja vu, allow me to put your mind at rest.  Yes, I have reviewed Trollhunters before on this blog, but Allen & Unwin recently sent me this new, red-jacketed edition that is a tad more slim-lined than the first edition, because as seen on the informative sticker adorning the front cover, a new TV series is being (has been?) released based on the book.

Suffice to say, I will not bore you by re-reviewing a book that I have already reviewed, but if you haven’t come across Trollhunters before, you can find my original review here.  My updated comment on this edition is that the illustrations are still a drawcard and I am quite taken with the dashing red cover.

Brand it with:

Involuntary organ donation; safety when cycling; friends in low places

Murder in Midwinter (Fleur Hitchcock)

*We received a copy of Murder in Midwinter from Allen & Unwin for review*

murder-in-midwinter

Murder in Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock. Published by Allen & Unwin, 23 November 2016. RRP: $14.99

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Maya is travelling home on the bus when she accidentally takes a photograph of a crime in progress. Now the criminal is after her and the police attempt to hide her away in the country at her aunt’s house – but is she as safe as she appears to be?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is an atmospheric, wintry romp through snow, sideways glances and suspicious criminal types.  I thoroughly enjoyed this brief but action-packed foray into middle grade mystery and the snowy setting was just the thing to take me away from summer heat that is so unforgiving it makes my eyeballs bleed.  Maya, the eldest sister in a charming little family that lives above their shop, innocently takes a photo from the bus window and is immediately plunged into a deadly game of cat and mouse when she realises that her photo may be a key piece of evidence in an unfolding murder investigation.  She is popped off to her aunt’s in Wales, and has to contend not only with being away from her close-knit family, but being shut in with her annoying (and downright disrespectful) cousin.  Of course, Maya turns out not to be as safe as the police thought she might be and it looks as if she and her repellent cousin may have to join forces to avoid being murdered in their beds.  Even though this is a standard size novel, it felt like a very quick read because the action just keeps coming.  There were some truly spine-tingling episodes in this one, as Maya’s antagonist attempts to smoke her out of the safety of her aunt’s house. There are a few bits of the story that do feel a bit clumsy and convenient to a reader of lots of adult murder mysteries, but overall this was lots of fun to read, with an epic, exciting, race-against-the-clock ending.  I would definitely recommend this to any readers looking for a wintry escape tinged with danger this holidays.

Brand it with:

Family ties; tips for taking good selfies; wintry Wales

Icebreaker: The Hidden #1 (Lian Tanner)

*We received a copy of Icebreaker from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Icebreaker: The Hidden #1 by Lian Tanner.  Published by Allen & Unwin, December 2016.  RRP: $12.99

Icebreaker: The Hidden #1 by Lian Tanner. Published by Allen & Unwin, December 2016. RRP: $12.99

Petrel is the Nothing Girl – shunned by her shipmates because of the actions of her parents when she was a baby. When Petrel spots a boy on the ice and convinces the chief engineer to have him brought aboard, events are set in motion that could change Petrel’s life forever – as well as endanger everyone on the ship.

Muster up the motivation because…

…there aren’t a great deal of middle grade adventure series set on an Icebreaker ship in a speculative future, so if you haven’t read one such already, The Hidden might be just the place to start your middle grade ice-boating adventure reading journey.  In case you’re wondering why this book seems familiar, this edition is a cover redesign of Lian Tanner’s successful series (which has already seen a number of re-jacketings, by the look of things), so you may have come across this book before, in a different cover.   From a personal point of view, this re-jacketing is a great thing because I had seen this book a number of times before, yet never picked it up.  When I pulled this one from the postal box, I immediately went, “Oooooh!” and eagerly read the back to see what it was about.  In that sense then, this cover art enticed me sufficiently to ensure that I actually read a book that I had previously passed on multiple times in the past.  The story is appropriately icy and atmospheric, with the ship becoming almost a character in itself.  The world aboard ship is clearly divided into three social groups – Engineers, Cooks and Officers – and the mechanics of this are deftly explained throughout the story without the need for information dumps to slow things down.  The story picks up pace quickly once Petrel spots the boy on the ice and his rescue starts to cause division amongst the crew.  Clearly, the boy’s presence on an ice floe is highly suspicious, but the crew can’t seem to puzzle out his purpose for being there.  Petrel, for her part, is keen to gloss over any potential danger because at last she has a companion in a society from which she has been effectively shunned.  Mister Smoke and Missus Slink, a pair of talking rats who may be more than they seem, are a great touch, and I particularly warmed to Squid, the cook’s daughter and loyal friend (eventually) to Petrel.  There are a lot of surprises in the second half of this book and Tanner has done a wonderful job of creating an insular world ruled by machinery and survival in a hostile environment.  If you are (or know) a fan of tales of a speculative future that are heavy on the atmosphere and feature writing that conjures the story like magic, then I would definitely recommend grabbing a copy of Icebreaker – in any of its jackets.

Brand it with:

Is the heating on?; a sailor’s life for me; infernal devices

A Monstrous Place: Tales from Between #1 (Matthew Stott)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  a-monstrous-place

When Molly’s best friend Neil goes missing, it is up to Molly to investigate. With the help of her ghostly Gran, Molly must brave the world of Between and unravel the mystery of her missing friend.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is an exciting, original new fantasy series for middle grade that has the potential to explore all sorts of spine-tingling and imaginative situations.  I stumbled across this when the Kindle store threw it up as a recommended read, so I took a chance…and have subsequently bought the next two books in the series.  Between is a world that exists between waking and sleeping and is populated by all manner of strange, unexpected and unbelievable folk, including a tall faceless man, a boy-who-is-not-a-boy, and a bus full of weirdos of various persuasions.  When Molly’s best friend goes missing, her Gran – currently residing as a ghost in Between – tips her off as to where he might be, and Molly’s rescue mission begins.  After discovering some home truths about her next-door neighbours, Molly realises that she must brave a terrifying prospect in an attempt to save her mother from a fate worse than death.  The world of Between is just perfectly suited to my reading preferences.  I love original worlds filled with quirky, scary and unexpected folk and this book has them in spades.  There are a few sections of the book that are a little bit scary, but overall the story is packed with action and puzzle-solving as Molly attempts to wrangle her own rabbit-hole and save those she loves. Overall, the book has a sense of levity about it that staves off any real sense of terror, but there are definitely a few bits that had me biting my nails.  The adult characters of Gran and Mr Adams are larger than life in some senses, which keeps the story firmly in the realm of make-believe for younger readers.  I haven’t been so excited about an indie series since I found Mick Bogerman’s Slug Pie Stories, which I’ve raved about multiple times on the blog and it’s heartening to know its still possible to stumble over original, highly engaging indie-made stories.   I am so pleased to have found this series and I highly recommend these to you, if you are a fan of original fantasy tales.

Brand it with:

Sleepy time tales; old-fashioned chutzpah; gruesome gardening

The Identical Boy: Tales from Between #2 (Matthew Stott)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the-identical-boy

Sam is bullied at school and a disappointment to his parents, so when he slips into Between and discovers a friend, it makes perfect sense to help the boy through to Awake, where they can be best friends together. As Sam and his friend start setting Sam’s world to rights, it becomes clear that Sam’s best ever best friend may not have Sam’s best interests at heart.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this second book in the Tales from Between indie middle grade series takes a much scarier turn than the first book.  More a psychological thriller in tone, The Identical Boy takes place mostly in the waking world, in which Sam is lonely and bullied…until his friend from Between crosses the border.  The book starts off innocuously enough, with Sam and his new friend dealing out schoolyard justice to a truly nasty gang of bullies, but as the boys spend more time together, things start to get a little out of hand.  Gorily out of hand, if I’m honest.  I ended up knocking this one over in one sitting because I just had to know what happened next, in that “I know it’s going to be bad, but I can’t look away” kind of way. In this book we also meet Ally, Sam’s rebellious, anti-establishment baby-sitter who becomes an ally for Sam when things start getting dangerous.  We get to see the Tall Man from Between, who appeared in the first book, again, and as the book continued I suddenly realised that Sam’s friend may indeed be the Not-Boy from the first book, although this is not confirmed – he certainly shares some of the Not-Boy’s personality traits though!  I suspect that the audience for this book would need to be of slightly sturdier stuff than readers who found the first book genuinely scary, because there is a bit of violence and blood-splatting in this one that is scary in a more realistic way than the fantasy frights of the first book.  As this series is designed to be a set of standalones though (if that makes sense!), more sensitive readers could easily skip over this one if it’s outside their comfort zone.  This is shaping up to be a super-readable series and I am impressed with the variety in content and setting that Stott has shown in just these first two stories.  I can’t wait to get stuck into book three, which is sitting on my Kindle patiently waiting its turn.  It won’t have to wait long!

Brand it with:

BFFs; parental disengagement; fun with flesh-ripping

Now look me in the eye, partners, and tell me that there isn’t a book in this herd that you want to lasso and drag home to your shelf.  Of course there is – but which one is your favourite?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Enticing YA” Edition…

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If you are fan of young adult literature, be it quirky-cute romance, gripping historical fiction, paranormal menace or angsty growing-up tale, you will no doubt want to saddle up and ride with us today.  I have four enticing YA titles for you, each with its own niche audience, so scroll on down and see what you can round up!

Hotel for the Lost (Suzanne Young)

*We received a copy of Hotel for the Lost from Simon & Schuster Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  hotel-for-the-lost

Audrey and her brother Daniel are being driven to their grandmother’s house, to take a break after their mother’s untimely death three months earlier. After stopping for the night at a hotel, the family dynamic seems more functional…but that’s only the first of a lot of strange things that are going on at the Hotel Ruby.

Muster up the motivation because…

…There’s a lot of ghosty goodness going on in this one that will have you guessing ahead to try and figure out the mystery before the big reveal.  I happened to be reading this one around Halloween time and it was charmingly atmospheric, what with its big gothic hotel in a lonely setting, odd nightly parties and collection of delightfully (and in some cases, creepily) bizarre guests.  Audrey is stuck down a well of grief and guilt since her mother’s death, while her brother Daniel is surly and their father seems to have mentally checked out.  On arrival  at the Ruby, things start looking up, but it isn’t long before Audrey starts to notice cracks in the hotel’s posh facade, not least of which being the overlord-like attitude of the concierge.  As Audrey meets more guests and her father becomes more and more plugged in to the family, Audrey decides that things might be looking up and it won’t be so hard to hang out for a few days until the family checks out, despite a few hard-to-explain incidents.  As ghostly, paranormal stories go, this one has plenty of threads to both entice and confuse the reader, with clues about the mystery dropped left, right and centre: there’s the mystery of the invitation-only nightly party, the tragic history of the building, the gossip about some of the guests and the strange flashes of vision that Audrey is experiencing.  I know I was hurriedly trying to piece together the tidbits of information in order to figure out what was going on before the reveal.  I suspect that experienced readers of paranormal stories will pick the obvious signs early on, but there were definitely a few aspects of the reveal that I did not see coming.  I was quite impressed with the ending that Young chose to go with here, because it is a bit more ambiguous and dark than I would have expected.  Overall, this was a fun read, albeit a tad predictable in places, that will satisfy those looking for an atmospheric story that will give a whole new meaning to the term “life of the party”.

Brand it with:

Complimentary late check-out; all in the family; what goes on below stairs

The Graces (Laure Eve)

*We received a copy of The Graces from Allen & Unwin for review*

the-graces

The Graces by Laure Eve. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016. RRP: $19.99

Two Sentence Synopsis: 

River is starting afresh at a new school and like everyone else, is drawn to the Grace siblings like a moth to a flame. When River manages to form a friendship with Summer Grace, her life becomes all that she wants it to be…but are the rumours of a Grace curse true?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a deep exploration of identity, loyalty, belonging and exerting one’s power in the fraught social world of the teenage years.  I didn’t think that I would be pulled in to The Graces as much as I was, but I was quickly won over by the focus on character development and the ways in which people will lie, keep secrets and remake themselves in order to fit in.  Everyone in River’s town believe that the Grace family are witches.  The three Grace siblings – twins, Fenrin and Tahlia, and younger sister Summer – float through school untouched by the problems of the common people, despite rumours of revenge and trouble that may have been dished out to those who defied the Graces in the past.  River, desperate to remake herself in this new environment, is somehow able to find her way into Summer’s good graces, and from there into the Grace family itself.  What she discovers is a tight-knit, exclusionary, possibly paranoid vision of their place in the world – a place she wants to share.  For the most part, this story is one firmly grounded in human relationships – parents exerting their will (and fears) on children, sibling loyalty, friendship defined by secrecy – but towards the end, a more obvious element of fantasy emerges.  I was slightly disappointed by this, because I thought that the character development and psychological twisting and turning between the Grace siblings and River was compelling enough that the story didn’t need any fantastical trappings.  Also, the fantasy element shows the story up as a series-opener, which heightened my disappointment.  I felt that this story had everything it needed to pack a memorable and thought-provoking punch contained within its pages, without having to add anything other-wordly to the story, and I don’t want to see that watered down by a focus in the next book on fantasy, rather than human nature.  Despite that little niggle at the end, I can heartily recommend this to readers of YA who are looking for an examination of human relationships and the price one might be willing to pay in order to be included.

Brand it with:

One of us; On the outer; Believing the rumours

The Lie Tree: Illustrated Edition (Frances Hardinge & Chris Riddell)

*We received a copy of The Lie Tree from PanMacmillan Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the-lie-tree

Faith yearns to take a place alongside her famous scientist father, but is constrained by the social restrictions imposed on women of her time. When the family moves to an island to escape a scandal, Faith takes her chance to assume the mantle of natural scientist over a very strange plant indeed – and finds herself embroiled in a mystery that challenges all the assumptions that her father held dear.

Muster up the motivation because…

…Frances Hardinge is a class apart when it comes to writing for young people.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that her books aren’t really young people’s books at all, but adult-reader-worthy books that happen to feature young protagonists.  Having read plenty of Hardinge’s work before, I knew pretty well what I was in for with The Lie Tree, and that was exactly what I got: absorbing, evocative prose, strong female characters with obvious, yet useful flaws, plot twists, and an atmosphere that perfectly reflected the oppressive situation in which the protagonist finds herself.  Faith is the eldest daughter of an (until-recently) esteemed natural scientist, who finds herself and her family spirited away to a remote island to avoid a scandal related to her father’s work.  After uncovering some of her father’s secrets through slyness and stealth, Faith is presented with an opportunity to observe a mythical plant whose discovery could change the world.  The story, like much of Hardinge’s work, unfolds slowly, with important information drip-fed to the reader.  The historical setting of this particular tale added a great deal to the atmosphere, as did the focus on gender-based restrictions that require Faith to undertake much of her investigation covertly.  This book really is absorbing, playing on ideas about the power of suggestion to create fear and generate a social environment which, already enmeshed in class-based strata and strict observance of propriety, is ripe for the dissemination of falsehood as truth, and opinion as fact.  I received the illustrated edition of the book to review, with illustrations completed by (who other than) Chris Riddell, yet I found that the illustrations didn’t add a great deal to my experience of the book.  Obviously, the illustrations are gorgeous and I enjoyed flicking across a full page line drawing every now and then in such a long book, but the narrative carries itself here, with Hardinge’s narrative imagery working its own magic.  Riddell’s illustrative style is particularly suited to the dour, historical atmosphere of the story however and admittedly, it was fun to see the portrayals of characters whose physical features are as unflattering as their personalities. I would definitely recommend The Lie Tree to those who are already fans of Hardinge’s work, featuring as it does a similar dark and foreboding atmosphere as her recent publications, Cuckoo Song and A Face Like Glass. If you are a fan of historical fiction that carries a touch of the subversive, and are looking for a good mystery with a slightly magical twist, then you will find plenty to entice you with The Lie Tree.

Brand it with:

Keeping one’s enemies close; the stealth-inducing properties of crepe; born to be wild

The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily (Rachel Cohn & David Levithan)

* We received a copy of The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

The Twelve Days of Dash and Llily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016.  RRP: $19.99

The Twelve Days of Dash and Llily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016. RRP: $19.99

Dash is concerned about his relationship with Lily, while Lily is depressed about her grandfather, Christmas and her relationship with Dash. Dash decides to break with tradition and surprise Lily with twelve days of happiness before Christmas to try and get their mutual groove back.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you were a fan of the first book in this series (which I have not read), you will no doubt go ga-ga for this charming, festive offering.  I really wanted to like this one, not least because of the delightful, quirky cover design, but I ended up DNFing at 68 pages.  Romance and romantic relationships are just not my thing in fiction, but I can see why there was so much buzz about the first book in the series.  The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Dash and Lily.  Dash opened this book, and I quickly found his self-deprecating dry humour quite disarming.  I thought that I might actually find myself falling for a romance book!  Then Lily took the helm and I just found her a bit too sheltered for my liking.  When you are nearly 18 and can’t get over the fact that you don’t feel all that Christmassy at Christmas, I think you need to step out of your #firstworldproblems for a moment and appreciate what you’ve got.  I did make the decision to put the book down during one of Lily’s sections, mostly because I didn’t think I could handle reading about such a young-seeming character as an adult reader.  I can certainly see the appeal of the book and the series however and should warn you not to let my curmudgeonly attitude toward unspoiled, innocent souls put you off reading it if you are in the mood for a Christmassy, feelgood story.

Brand it with:

Christmas knits; holiday romance; Dash-ing through the not-snow

Surely there is something amongst these offerings to ignite the YA gleam in your eye and have you rushing out to muster up one of these titles!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Completely Unrelated Kidlit” Edition…

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I tried and tried, but I couldn’t think of a theme that would link the books for today’s Round-Up, so you’ll just have to bear with me.  We have a picture book based on a classic dance hit, a fairy tale retelling for early chapter book fans and a book of stats and facts for the upcoming T20 Cricket season here in Australia.  Let’s saddle up and ride into this diverse herd!

Footloose (Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford & Tim Bowers)

* We received a copy of Footloose from Allen & Unwin for review *

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Footloose by Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford & Tim Bowers.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October 2016.  RRP: $19.99

Footloose by Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford & Tim Bowers. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October 2016. RRP: $19.99

When the zoo closes down for the night the fun really starts!  A reimagining of the classic hit song featuring a crowd of dancing animals.

Muster up the motivation because…

…I’m pretty sure nobody needs a reason to bust out a few moves when Footloose comes on the radio and so it will no doubt be with this lively, colourful picture book.  Let me say up front that I’m not the greatest fan of the songs-to-picture-books trend, mostly because the songs are generally awesome on their own and the added book just slows them down, trying to squish slightly awkward text into a pre-existing lyrical framework.  I did find that was the case here to a certain degree.  Footloose is one of the younger mini-fleshling’s favourite boogie tunes and while there were a few smiles throughout the reading of this one, she didn’t express the unbridled glee that I expected, or indeed that she exhibits when she’s throwing down the moves to the song.  The illustrations are certainly inviting and animated and its obvious that the animals are having a cracking time cutting footloose.  There’s also a CD that comes with the book so you can experience the tune in your own home.  Overall, I think little kids will love the vivid illustrations and the general fun vibe of the book, but for me, some of the text didn’t quite work as a read (or sing) aloud, which kind of defeats the purpose of the book, in my opinion.  If you are a fan of the song, you will no doubt end up checking this book out, so do let me know what you think.

Brand it with:

Dancing leads to animal frivolity, 80s dance hits, busting a move

Big Bash Book 2016-17 (Daniel Lane)

* We received a copy of the Big Bash Book 2016-17 from Allen & Unwin for review *

Two (well, one) Sentence Synopsis: 

Big Bash Book 2016-17 by Daniel Lane.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 9th November 2016.  RRP: $29.99

Big Bash Book 2016-17 by Daniel Lane. Published by Allen & Unwin, 9th November 2016. RRP: $29.99

A photo-filled look at the players and teams who will feature in this season’s KFC T20 Big Bash league.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you are a cricket fan, this book will no doubt provide hours and hours of viewing pleasure…much like test cricket itself.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or in a country that doesn’t really play cricket) it will have been impossible not to notice the dramatic rise in popularity of the Big Bash League.  Colourful, loud, reasonably priced and family friendly are words that describe both the League itself, as well as this high quality tome.  It is well known that I have a rather lacklustre attitude towards cricket of any kind, but even I can’t help but get sucked in to the energy and excitement of Big Bash cricket.  This book is much the same.  While I have little to no interest in the contents of this book, I couldn’t help but pick it up and have a flick through.  It is full colour throughout, with big photographs of players and teams, and I’m pleased to note that both men’s and women’s teams are featured.  I immediately flicked through to the Brisbane Heat sections of the book and read up on Chris Lynn (he of the big six hitting capability), while saying a little prayer that the Heat win more than one game this season.  On my flick through the book I also managed to catch a glimpse of one Jake Lehmann, sporting a moustache that is as alluring as it is disturbing.  That aside, predictably, I suppose, when I left the book out in plain sight in the dwelling, it was immediately snatched up by the he-fleshling and the mini-he-fleshling, who began poring over it and discussing their memories of last year’s season (during which the mini-he-fleshling managed to attend a game at the Gabba…the only game of the season that the Heat actually won, so at least they got their money’s worth).  This is clearly a niche market book but would make a fab gift for any cricket fan of your acquaintance.

Brand it with:

I don’t like cricket…(no really, I don’t); family entertainment; fun with fielding

The Spell Thief: Little Legends (Tom Percival)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis: the-spell-thief

When new kid Anansi moves to town, Jack (from the Beanstalk) can’t shake the feeling that there is something shady about him.  After Jack tries to prove his theory, things start going from bad to worse, and Jack must decide how far he is prepared to go to get to the truth.

Muster up the motivation because…

…as early chapter books featuring rehashed fairy tale characters go, this one is of quite a high quality.  The Little Legends series features all your favourite fairy tale characters (including, but not limited to, Jack (of the beanstalk), Red (of the riding hood) and Rapunzel (with the hair)), as well as Jack’s talking pet chicken Betsy (although the only thing she can say is “Whaaaat?”).  The books aren’t retellings of the original fairy tales, but rather feature the familiar characters in fairy tale-like adventures.  In this story, Anansi, who those of African heritage may know as the trickster spirit, arrives in the village and is spotted by Jack engaged in mildly suspicious activity involving imps and trolls.  Jack then sets out on a quest to prove his theory that Anansi is a troublemaker, but predictably ends up causing far more trouble himself.  The book is illustrated throughout, which adds immensely to the story, and although the kids feel a little bit too “Disney” for my liking, the characters are all true to age and true to form, in dialogue and behaviour.  There is also a satisfying mix of male and female characters here, so the book isn’t particularly skewed toward one gender or the other.  I quite enjoyed the story due to the fact that it was a quick read and the action kept moving, with some interesting twists and characters that one might not expect from a fairy tale world.  I think my favourite part of the world is the concept of the great Story Tree; a tree that sits in the middle of town and grows a new branch every time a resident creates a new story through their actions.  As this is the first book in a series, I can imagine that the Story Tree will be sprouting a lot of new branches as the stories keep coming.

Brand it with:

Not your Nanna’s fairy tales; trick or be tricked; water-soluble solutions

It’s an unlikely collection, I’ll admit, but hopefully at least one of these tomes has caught your eye and inspired you to go out and round it up.

Until next time,

Bruce