Fi50 Reminder and an Inspirational Early Chapter Book

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It’s that time of the month again – Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday!  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

button_that-old-wives-tale (1)

Hope to see you there!


Ballerina Dreams: A Tale of Hope, Hard Work and Finding Your Groove…

 

ballerina dreams

Ballerina Dreams by Michaela & Elaine DePrince.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th May 2017.  RRP: $14.99

 

The world of early chapter books seems to have expanded greatly since I was a youngling and nowadays there are a plethora of beautifully presented, exquisitely formatted, engaging and accessible stories out there for newly confident readers.  Ballerina Dreams: A True Story by professional ballet dancer Michaela DePrince and her adoptive mother Elaine is one such story.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At the age of three, Michaela DePrince found a photo of a ballerina that changed her life. She was living in an orphanage in Sierra Leone at the time, but was soon adopted by a family and brought to America. Michaela never forgot the photo of the dancer she once saw, and decided to make her dream of becoming a ballerina come true. She has been dancing ever since, and after a spell as a principal dancer in New York, now dances for the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam.

Beautifully and gently illustrated by Ella Okstad, Ballerina Dreams is the younger-reader edition of Michaela DePrince’s highly moving memoir, Hope in a Ballet Shoe.

Not being a particular fan of ballet, I was a bit trepidatious going into this book, but I was drawn in by the young, brown-skinned girl on the cover.  I happen to have some familial ties with a fantastic blog called FleshTone, that promotes representation of all skin colours in all areas of everyday life, from underwear to toys and beyond.  FleshTone, driven by its founder, Tayo Ade, has a particular focus on dancewear for darker skinned performers, because bizarrely, despite the fact that there must be thousands upon thousands of non-white people involved in dancing worldwide, production of flesh-coloured dancewear to suit such people is hard to find.  I immediatley wondered, while reading this book, whether Michaela DePrince has trouble finding flesh-coloured dancewear to suit her fleshtone…but I digress.  Back to the book.

Ballerina Dreams is the early reader version of DePrince’s memoir Hope in a Ballet Shoe.  DePrince herself hails from Sierra Leone, where she lived in an orphanage after her parents were killed in the war there.  Adopted by Elaine DePrince, along with her best friend and several others from the orphanage, Michaela moves to the USA with her new family and is able to pursue the dream she has fostered since finding an abadoned magazine with a picture of a dancer on the front: to learn ballet.

The story touches briefly on DePrince’s struggles as a dark-skinned dancer in a world in which such dancers are scarce, before ending on her accomplishments as a professional dancer and her desire to inspire and encourage other young people of colour to pursue their dreams with hard work and patience.

The book is beautifully presented, with large print and colour illustrations throughout, appearing both as full page spreads and wrapped around sections of text.  As such, the story will be accessible for young readers as both a read-alone or a read-aloud with an adult.  It’s wonderful to see that books – and particularly nonfiction books – highlighting individuals from diverse backgrounds are being published for this age group.

I would highly recommend this engaging tale for young fans of dance and those who enjoy true stories told in accessible ways.

I’m submitting this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge in category #32: a book about an interesting woman.  You can check out my progress toward the challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal: Night Shift…

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Today’s offering is one of those rare picture books that is aimed at adults and delivered in an extraordinarily moving way.  Debi Gliori, most famous for her popular fantasy stories and kid-level picture books, has created an absorbing portrait of depression and hope in her new picture book Night Shift.  We received a copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A groundbreaking picture book on depression with stunning illustrations.

With stunning black and white illustration and deceptively simple text, author and illustrator Debi Gliori examines how depression affects one’s whole outlook upon life, and shows that there can be an escape – it may not be easy to find, but it is there. Drawn from Debi’s own experiences and with a moving testimony at the end of the book explaining how depression has affected her and how she continues to cope, Debi hopes that by sharing her own experience she can help others who suffer from depression, and to find that subtle shift that will show the way out.

‘I have used dragons to represent depression. This is partly because of their legendary ability to turn a once fertile realm into a blackened, smoking ruin and partly because popular mythology shows them as monstrous opponents with a tendency to pick fights with smaller creatures. I’m not particularly brave or resourceful, and after so many years battling my beasts, I have to admit to a certain weariness, but I will arm-wrestle dragons for eternity if it means that I can help anyone going through a similar struggle.’

The first clue that this isn’t your average picture book comes from the cover and size of Night Shift.  At A5 size and with a rich-feeling cloth-bound cover, it’s obvious from the off that this isn’t necessarily a book a child might pick up.  Fans of fantasy will be drawn to the dragon on the front cover and will be rewarded throughout because Gliori has chosen to represent mental illness – in this case depression – through the medium of the dragon.

The story starts simply enough.  A woman is a bit tired, a bit stressed, has trouble sleeping.  She is followed around by a small dragon who, while maybe a bit annoying certainly isn’t immediately recognised as malignant in intention.  As the story continues however, the dragon gets larger, the woman’s reality more fragmented and fanciful and it seems like she couldn’t possibly find the tools to escape from the new landscape of fear and sadness in which she lives her life.

And then…a feather.

And hope.

night shift feather

The monochromatic, graphite and charcoal illustrations throughout perfectly capture the sharp contrasts of depression and anxiety, as certain experiences stand out starkly while others blur around the edges.  In each vignette it is possible to see the small changes that eventually lead to a sense of being overwhelmed; in which some small thing has somehow taken over a life.  The text on each page is sparse, but the words skilfully chosen to reflect the common cliches that the depressed often hear from friends, family and therapists.

A brief afterword from the author describes her journey through depressive illness and her inspiration in creating the book.  Books like Night Shift are an important stepping stone on the way to making mental illness visible in the public eye, and something that is acceptable to talk about.  If you have ever experienced depression, or know someone who has, I would suggest seeking this book out.

Until next time,

Bruce

Remembering the Great East Japan Tsunami and Earthquake of 2011: Hotaka (Through My Eyes)

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Hotaka: Through My Eyes Natural Disaster Zones by John Heffernan and Lyn White.  Published by Allen & Unwin, March 2017.  RRP: $16.99

It would be remiss of me not to review this particular book on this particular date: At 2.46pm on March 11th, 2011 a massive earthquake triggered a deadly tsunami that inundated 560 square kilometres of Japan’s eastern coastline.  The wave also caused major damage at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.  By the time the final effects of the multiple disasters were tallied, more than 24 000 people are confirmed dead or missing and six years on, hundreds of thousands are still displaced.

The Through My Eyes young adult novel series began with the stories of fictional children living in conflict zones throughout the world and has moved on to include the stories of fictional children affected by natural disasters. We received a copy of Hotaka by John Heffernan from Allen & Unwin for review and here is the blurb from Goodreads:

A powerful and moving story about one boy caught up in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

When the tsunami strikes the Japanese seaside town of Omori-wan, the effects are utterly devastating. Three years later, much of what happened on that day is still a mystery. As Hotaka sets about convincing local performers to appear at the town’s upcoming Memorial Concert, he finds himself increasingly haunted by memories of best friend, Takeshi, who perished without trace in the tsunami. Then his friend Sakura becomes involved in an anti-seawall movement, and all too quickly the protest gets serious. As the town and its people struggle to rebuild their lives, can Hotaka piece together what happened that day – and let go of the past?

The book begins the morning of March 11th, 2011 with Hotaka and his friend Takeshi on a school trip to the local puppet show.  As the day unfolds and the earthquake hits, the reader is given an idea of how it might have felt to have experienced first the shock of the extraordinarily strong earthquake, the scramble to higher ground and then the chaos and confusion following in the wake of the giant wave.  Rather than dwell on the actual disaster itself, the story soon moves on to three years later, as the residents of Omori-wan try to continue with their lives despite a lack of housing, the mental affects of trauma and an underlying sense of resentment from those who lost much toward those who lost little.

Hotaka and his friends Osamu and Sakura are charged with preparing a memorial concert for the fifth anniversary of the wave that will involve aspects of local culture, with the aim of helping the residents of Omori-wan to let go and move on.  Hotaka discovers that he, of all people, has something that he must let go of if he is to move forward in life, while Sakura – who generally keeps her cards (and her past) close to her chest – is infuriated by government plans to build an enormous sea wall around the town to protect it from future tsunamis.

Events come to a head when Sakura takes matters into her own hands and begins a protest that snowballs to national attention.  As threats from developers and local government start to hit close to home for the three friends, they must decide whether it is worth continuing to speak out for the sake of their town, or instead fall in line with the wishes of the government, as is the usual course of action.

Heffernan has done a good job here of highlighting the difficulties of the townspeople whose lives were irrevocably altered after the wave.  The stress of inadequate temporary housing, the trauma of lost loved ones and the feeling of abandonment are made obvious through Hotaka’s interactions with some of his less fortunate classmates.  The story never veers from the perspective of a young person however, and the kernel of hope that Hotaka and others continue to show lifts the book from becoming depressing at any stage.  The three young protagonists have diverse personalities and characteristics and while their differences do lead to conflict at times, the strength of their friendship pulls them through.

The book includes a timeline of the actual disaster at the end, as well as a glossary of Japanese terms, and overall I think this book would be a great starting point for any young person wanting to read more about this particular disaster in a fictional format.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

A Mini DNF-a-Thon: DNFs with Potential…

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I have had a mini-swathe of DNFed books of late so I thought I’d share them here in case there are any of you whose interest is piqued by their content.  I hasten to add that none of the following books is bad in any major way, but they just didn’t really suit my tastes or my mindset at the time of reading, possibly because two out of three of them came unsolicited from the publishers. Here we go then.

The Diabolic (S. J. Kincaid)

*We received this one from Simon & Schuster for review * 

Categories: YA, science fiction, speculative fiction, playing politics, survival the-diabolic

DNF’ed at: page 77

Comments:

This one was sent unsolicited (ie: I didn’t request it) for review, so I wasn’t initially sure what I was getting into.  I was actually quite engaged during the first section of the book, but as soon as Nemesis got on the ship to head off to intergalactic court to impersonate her mistress, I lost interest.  This book is getting absolute rave reviews all over the place though, and my loss of interest may have had more to do with being too busy to focus on it, rather than the book suddenly becoming uninteresting.  I may well pick this one up again in the future and would recommend it to fans of sci-fi or YA that isn’t set in your typical fantasy or contemporary worlds.


The Fifth Avenue Artists Society (Joy Callaway)

*We were sent this one for review from Allen & Unwin*

Categories: Adult fiction, historical fiction, period romance  fifth-avenue-artists-society

DNF’ed at: page 36

Comments:

This one was also unsolicited, but I like a good period piece as much as the next gargoyle so I thought I’d give it a crack.  I could have probably found myself enjoying this if I didn’t have a whole bunch of books lying around waiting to be read, honestly, but overall this one was a bit too out-of-period for me.  I prefer my historical fiction from this era to be British rather than American.  There were a few turns of phrase in the dialogue and in the general writing that hit me as slightly out of place, but again, if I was an ordinary reader who read one book at a time, I may have found more to enjoy here.  This one is a victim of just not being my thing.  But it might be yours!


The Amateurs (Sarah Shepard)

*We received this one from Allen & Unwin for review*

Categories: YA, murder mystery the-amateurs

DNF’ed at: chapter ten

Comments:

This was a definite fail for me.  I was excited to read it because it features a group of amateur sleuths who chat online and try to solve cold cases.  Just my thing, I thought!  Unfortunately, the author insists on going off at annoying tangents by having her characters constantly reflect inwardly about various peoples’ hotness and whether they should really be hanging out with this person or encouraging advances from that person’s running coach, ad nauseum. I just wanted to know about the murder mystery, kids – save your adolescent angst for a romance book!  While I really did want to know who murdered Helena Kelly, I wasn’t prepared to wade through a bunch of cliched tripe-filled characters to find out.  Shame really.


Have you read any of these?  What did you think?

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*

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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*

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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

 

 

 

 

On For Young and Old: Activity books from wicked to wonderful…

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If you (or your mini-fleshlings) are already twiddling your thumbs and the school holidays haven’t even started yet, allow me to avail you of some fantastic activity books that will give your thumbs, and indeed the rest of your hand-based digits, something to do.  Let’s start with something for the grownups, shall we, with…

The Wicked Plants Colouring Book (Amy Stewart and Briony Morrow-Cribbs)

which we received for review from Scribe Publications

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From Goodreads:

A colouring book with a dark side

In The Wicked Plants Colouring Book, Amy Stewart and artist Briony Morrow-Cribbs bring colouring enthusiasts the 40 most menacing botanical atrocities from their New York Times bestseller Wicked Plants. Morrow-Cribbs’s exquisite etchings are now finely rendered colouring-book art and are paired with details from the original book.

Drawing on history, medicine, science, and legend, and written with Stewart’s trademark wit, each wonderfully creepy spread offers a fascinating portrait of the evildoers of the plant world, from the vine that ate the South (kudzu) to the weed that killed Lincoln’s mother (white snakeroot) to the world’s deadliest seed (rosary pea).

If this time of year generally has you making a list (of people who have wronged you during the past year) and checking it twice, then you are definitely the sort of person for whom the colouring of deadly plants could be a relaxing and educational experience.  I was woefully unaware of the original nonfiction title that spawned this black and white spin-off, but Wicked Plants is now definitely on my TBR list.

As well as providing some gorgeous and detailed line drawings of the aforementioned floral evildoers for you to wile away the hours colouring in, each plant picture is accompanied by a short paragraph of text explaining the specific wickedness of said plant and providing tidbits of scientific information about it.  The cover star of the book, in case you are wondering, is the Betel Nut, a highly addictive nut prized for its chewability, but a chief cause of mouth cancer and asthma.  A small selection of the 40 delightfully deadly plants included here are the innocent-seeming Water Hyacinth (waterway clogger extraordinaire), the highly toxic Death Camas (well, the name did warn you), and the completely-poisonous-except-for-one-tiny-bit (can you guess which one?) Yew.  The plants are listed in alphabetical order, with a foreword from the author at the beginning, and some blank pages at the back for you to draw your own plants.

I think the most charming thing about this particular activity book is that it bears a “This book belongs to” stamp at the front, so that budding poisoners can ensure that nobody makes off with their tome of flowering death.  If you are, or you know, a green thumb who is also quite at home with the dark side of plant life, this would make the perfect gift.  Other than that, perhaps you could keep it beside your list of enemies, for when you need a light break.

Next we have one for the middle-sized fleshlings of your acquaintance…

Doodles Activity Book 

which we received from Allen & Unwin for review

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Doodles Activity Book Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November 2016. RRP: $16.99

From Allen & Unwin:

A hilariously funny activity book filled with wacky drawing ideas. DRAW-SNAP-SEND-LAUGH – submit your drawing directly to the interactive animated comedy series Doodles, now screening on ABC3.

Take a monster selfie, untangle a robot’s wiring or create your own UFO in this comic and appealing activity book with loads of child appeal. Full of hilarious drawing activities, funny dot-to-dots, zany find-a-words, wacky mazes and other mad-cap activities sure to spark a child’s creativity, this book from the creators of the successful television show of the same name will be a winner for Christmas.

The interactive television show, Doodles, in which kids’ drawings are turned into micro movies is now screening on ABC ME. Kids can submit their drawings to the television show by following the instructions in the activity book.

As with the previous title, I had absolutely no idea that this book is based on a TV show currently screening on ABCMe (formerly ABC3).   At first glance, this book doesn’t appear to be anything too different or special when it comes to drawing prompt-type books for kids, but having had a quick look at the website for the show, which encourages kids to send in their drawings, which are then made into short animations, this activity book starts to make a lot more sense. I would definitely encourage you to use the book in conjunction with having a goggle at the show, to provide inspiration beyond what’s provided in the pages here.  Don’t panic if you think you’ll forget the website for the show – all the social media addresses are included in the book – and there’s even a little instruction page detailing how kids can submit their drawings for the show.

The book itself is a satisfying A4 size, and divided into sections based on different themes – dinosaurs, superheroes, aliens, technology and robots, and magic and fantasy.  Personally, I think this is a great idea because not only does it allow the user to flick to whatever interests them first, but it but it also provides a focused prompt and allows users to practice one particular type of drawing before moving on to the next.  As well as lots of doodling prompts, each section has a range of other activities, such as colouring by numbers, decoding puzzles, crosswords, funny labelling activities and mad libs style fill-in-the-blank activities, so even if your mini-fleshling isn’t a drawing desperado, they should find something to keep them busy inside this book.  

The final section of the book is a “Make Your Own Movie” chapter, in which users are guided through the process of creating a story from start to finish.  Page prompts detail how to create characters, decide on a conflict and push the story through to an exciting ending.  This is a great way to keep the mini-fleshlings busy for more than just a few minutes, as they plan and create a story, rather than just fill in an activity page.

On closer inspection, I’m pretty impressed with the quality of the prompts found in the Doodles Activity book.  If you are looking for a way to get your kids away from their screens without cancelling all screen time, this book could be a great middle point as it uses the TV show as a starting point to fire kids’ imaginations.

And finally, we have one for the whole family, whether you’re snowed in or sweating it out…

The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book (Andy Seed & Scott Garrett)

which we received for review from Bloomsbury Australia

anti-boredom-christmas

From Bloomsbury Australia:

Warning: This book will cure all boredom!

Christmas is everyone’s favourite time of year. But it can also get a bit boring from time to time. Those long journeys to see Aunty Periwinkle can seem to drag on forever! But look no further because Andy Seed’s Anti-boredom Christmas Book will cure all those Christmas boredom blues!

Find out how to say snow in 16 different languages; discover who banned Christmas carols; act out your own wacky routine of the Twelve Days of Christmas… and much much more!

This fantastically festive witty and wacky book is bursting full of laugh-out-loud facts, games, quizzes plus heaps more for hours of fun. Packed full of Scott Garrett’s hilarious artwork, this book is sure to keep you entertained for hours of festive fun! 

“So how is this different from other Christmas activity books, Bruce?” I hear you ask.  Well, for a start, The Anti-Boredom Christmas book is far less focused on using the book as the starting point for the activity, rather encouraging people, both young and old, to share their ideas, likes and dislikes about all things Christmas.  Divided into a range of handy sections which cover everything from snowfall to festive music to Christmas around the world, each section features jokes to tell, objects or events to rate, challenges to complete individually or with family or friends, riddles to solve, games to play and contentious topics (like whether real or fake Christmas trees are superior) to debate.  My favourite bit (being a bit of a nerdy nerd) was discovering a list of Toy of the Year winners from 1965 to 2015, although I had a bit of a chuckle at a collection of real and made up festive place names from around the world (did you know the US boasts a town named Santa Claus?), and I thought hard over a would-you-rather game involving Christmas films.  The only downside to the book is that it is quite Northern Hemisphere-centric, and even Britain-centric, and younger Aussie readers may not quite get the references to Pantos and such.  

The book is quite a small size, which makes it super-handy for travelling, but ensures that the text is packed onto the page, so a quick flick through really gives the impression that there is plenty to get one’s teeth into to ward off holiday boredom.  It’s also beautifully formatted so that you can just open it at a random page and have a go at whatever you happen to land on, be it joke-telling, snowflake crafting or playing a Christmas-themed guessing game.  I think the best part about this book is that most of the activities within it beg to be shared with others, encouraging interaction rather than isolation on screen or over page.  If you are going on a long boring train, plane or car trip, or expect some drop-outs to your Wifi this holiday season, The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book is a great solution for when you need ten festive minutes to fill.

Hopefully one of these books has taken your fancy and we on the Shelf have once again assisted you with your gift-buying needs.  Or, you know, just helped you add a few extra books to your teetering TBR pile.

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