Tell The Story to its End: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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manical book club button

The team has come together again to bring you our thoughts on an intriguing middle-grade offering that acknowledges the power of stories to manipulate the mundane world.  We received a copy of Tell the Story to its End (which also goes by the title Eren) by Simon P. Clark from the publisher via Netgalley, and were pleased to discover an atmospheric and nicely paced tale that lulls the reader into a place of comfort…or does it? Mwahahahaha!

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

People are keeping secrets from Oli. His mum has brought him to stay with his aunt and uncle in the countryside, but nobody will tell him why his dad where his father is. Why isn’t he with them? Has something happened? Oli has a hundred questions, and only an old, empty house in the middle of an ancient forest for answers. But then he finds a secret of his own: there is a creature that lives in the attic…

Eren is not human.
Eren is hungry for stories.
Eren has been waiting for him.

Sharing his stories with Eren, Oli starts to make sense of what’s happening downstairs with his family. But what if it’s a trap? Soon, Oli must make a choice: learn the truth—or abandon himself to Eren’s world, forever.

Reminiscent of SKELLIG by David Almond and A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness, EREN is richly atmospheric, moving, unsettling, and told in gorgeous prose. A modern classic in the making.

Here are the two versions of the cover:

tell the story to its end

eren

And here’s the Club’s thoughts:

Guru Dave

If you fail to master your words, your wordsmaniacal book club guru dave may become your master.  Such is the power of stories, fables, myths, to change the way we think, the way we act and the way we are.  Are we the product of our ancestors’ stories or do we create our own narrative? What happens to the stories that have faded from human memory? And is the book always better than the movie?  These are the questions that Oli will explore with his new, mysterious friend, Eren. Well. Except for that last one.

Toothless

maniacal book club toothlessThere are no dragons in this book.  But there is a cool talking cat and a king of trees and a strange winged guy called Eren who hides in attics and really likes stories.  He sounds a bit like Bruce really.  There’s not a lot of whiz-bang action in this book.  It would have been better if Eren was the kind of monster that eats people.  There was a cool story about a witch too.  This was an okay book but it would have been better with dragons.

Mad Martha

There once was a boy called Oli,maniacal book club martha

Who truly enjoyed a good sto’ry,

Do he and his friends,

Come to grief in the end?

You’ll just have to read to be sure-y.

*Toothless interjects: Worst. Limerick. Ever. *

Bruce

You know how books often have some comparison on the cover, like “if you liked *insert series name here*, then you’ll love this!” or “for fans of *insert author here*”.  Most of the time, the book ends up being nothing like the assertion, but Tell the Story to its End really IS a lot like the work of David Almond.  If you enjoy the feel of Almond’s work, then I can assure you that this book has a very similar narrative style, comparable pacing and more than a touch of the ol’ magical realism.

This book isn’t going to appeal to all readers in the target age bracket, but will certainly suit those who like a slow-burn mystery and stories-within-stories.  Oli is your average young lad who finds himself suddenly moving to the country with his mother, to live with her brother, for reasons that he’s not exactly clear about.  His mother is keeping some sort of secret about his father, and while Oli puzzles this out, he discovers the mysterious Eren living in the attic.

The addition of two other young folk, Em and Takeru, whom Oli befriends, deepens the plot as local legends are brought to light.  As the situation with Oli’s father comes out in bits and pieces, Oli finds himself drawn more deeply into Eren’s world and influence.  The reader is kept in a cloud of obscurity surrounding who Eren really is and whether he knows more of Oli’s family than he is saying.  The ending was surprising (to me, at least!) but felt quite fitting for the style of story.

The Book Club gives this book:

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Three thumbs up (Toothless wanted more fiery destruction)

I feel pretty safe in corroborating the claim in the blurb, that fans of David Almond should certainly enjoy Clark’s work here.  This is one for those who savour an enigmatic approach to storytelling.

Until next time,

Bruce and the Gang

A YA Haiku Review: The Potion Diaries…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today for a rare and mystical haiku review. Bruce unexpectedly received a copy of  YA new release The Potion Diaries by Amy Alward, from Simon & Schuster Australia and immediately passed it on to me as he suspected it might be altogether too girly for his tastes. He was probably right to do so, given that this is definitely a book aimed at a teenaged female audience. While I am not the greatest fan of romance in books either, there was plenty of fun and adventure in The Potion Diaries and it turned out to be a perfect antidote to the quagmire of illness that is plaguing the fleshlings in the household. In fact, I was quite happy to be able to wedge a heavy tome  against the shelfdom door, block out the sounds of hacking, coughing and nose-blowing, and curl up for a bit of good old-fashioned, magical girl power.  This book has a delightful charm about it such that I couldn’t help but feel fondly toward it, and so I allowed myself to move past its literary shortcomings and just be entertained by the spectacle.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When the Princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn.

Enter Samantha Kemi – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they’ve fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? Just how close is Sam willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing former classmate and enemy, in the meantime?

And just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news.

No big deal, then.

potion diaries

Royal mercy dash

Complete with murd’rous aunt, reads

Like wacky races

Despite the fact that The Potion Diaries has plot holes the size of the Nullarbor, a stereotyped, teen-angsty romance and underdeveloped characters swanning all over the place, I actually really enjoyed it. If the preceding sentence sounds a little harsh, I mean those criticisms in the fondest possible way.

Is this book going to win any awards for originality or writing? No.

Have we seen this all before in a myriad other fantasy type books for younger teens? Yes.

Does that mean this book has no value?

Absolutely not!

Because sometimes you just need something light and fluffy, where you know nothing too shocking or unpredictable is going to happen, that you can just pick up and put down and delve into when you need a bit of indulgent escapism.  For that reason, The Potion Diaries is practically the quintessential holiday/beach/summer read; the book you turn to when you want to switch off from anything stressful or troubling and just tumble into adventure with a thoroughly likeable main character.

Samantha Kemi is a sort of everygirl character: overtly skilled in what seems to be a dying profession, ordinary in a world of Talenteds and for all intents and purposes, thwarted from following her dream of researching new potions by money and position. As the story progresses, we find out more about Sam’s family history and the strong traditions of alchemy that are keeping her from striking out on her own. I suspect that young teen girls will really relate to Sam and revel in the excitement of danger and adventure as they race along with her in the Wilde Hunt.

While the world-building is relatively sparse in this tome, Alward has done a good job of creating a setting in which magic and technology sit side by side, without the need for long and distracting explanations.  Similarly, the lack of any deep development in the majority of the characters provides a quick entry to the story and allows the reader to just dive right on in as the action ramps up. As I said before, the story is riddled with plot holes and events that seem to occur a bit too conveniently to be plausible, but unless you’re approaching this as a serious and deeply thought out fantasy offering, the tone is light enough and the pace quick enough for these issues to be overlooked in favour of just enjoying the fun.

Overall, this is not the kind of book that we shelf-dwellers normally go for (and admittedly, the romance narrative was so clichéd and annoyingly contrived that I wanted to just skip those pages entirely) but I honestly enjoyed the story and would happily pick up the sequel the next time I’m in desperate need of a story that won’t make me work too hard and will reward with unadulterated frivolous adventure.

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

 

 

 

Alice and the Fly: A YA, GSQ Review…

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imageIt’s time to unleash my psyche’s personas once again, appropriately enough to review young adult offering, Alice and the Fly by James Rice.  I received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley (drawn in, once again, by the beautiful cover and the promise of content relating to mental health – I’m becoming predictable, aren’t I?).  Unfortunately however, these intriguing lures did not result in my arrival in readers’ paradise.  But let’s press on anyway, shall we?

It’s safe to say that Greg is a bit of an outsider.  Shunned by his peers and watching life from the bus window (when he’s not getting soft drink poured over his head), Greg records his thoughts in a notebook given to him by his would-be counsellor and actual teacher, Miss Hayes. As Greg records various traumatic incidents that happened (and continue to happen) to him, the reader finds out more about this troubled young man.  But then Greg finds what could be a friend…she doesn’t really know he exists, but Greg is determined to change that.  And that’s what leads to the terrible incident.alice and the fly

 

The Goodimage

The best thing about this book is its interesting format.  As well as excerpts from Greg’s journal (which  makes up the bulk of the narrative), the reader is privy to police interviews with a variety of Greg’s relatives and peers interspersed throughout the book.  These are welcome intrusions into Greg’s monologuing and also serve the purpose of giving the reader a few glimpses of the entire puzzle before the incident described at the end of the book.

The Sad

There were a number of things that didn’t work for me in Alice and the Fly.  The first is the fact that image there is a LOT of monologuing in this book.  It’s a personal preference, but I prefer my monolouing in moderation.  There were quite a few times during reading, particularly during the middle of the novel, that I just wanted Greg to shut up and/or stick to the point.

The thing that particularly annoyed me about this book is that there were quite a few things that just didn’t ring true while reading.  Greg’s father is a surgeon.  Greg, it appears, has some unspecified mental illness (loosely labelled schizophrenia), as well as at least one crippling phobia, that require him to be on serious medication (one would presume these to be antipsychotics).  I simply could not believe that a doctor who has a child with a serious, rare (in young children – Greg was supposedly diagnosed at 6) and debilitating mental illness, coupled with obvious social and emotional problems could be so detached from his son’s care and treatment.  Particularly after a violent incident that required Greg to be separated from the family many years previously.

That just didn’t work for me.  Nor did the fact that Greg’s problems were obvious to and identified by pretty much every adult in his life, yet he received no real therapy for his issues, aside from that provided by his well-meaning teacher.  I got the sense by the end that Greg was really just being portrayed, despite efforts to provide Greg’s side of the story through his narration, as the stereotypical dangerous, violent  loony, which just left a bad taste in my mouth.

The Quirky

The quirkiest bit of this novel is the fact that it’s written by an unreliable narrator.  Greg haimages memory blocks that are slowly chipped away, drip-feeding the reader with clues to his overall situation.  Later in the book he also experiences some dissociation that muddies the waters as to what actually happens during the incident, as I shall refer to it.  The mysterious “Them” that Greg is afraid of is also a quirky drawcard, but what “They” are becomes pretty obvious early on in the story and I don’t think the author did a good enough job of describing Greg’s state of mind when in the throes of an attack of his phobia.

I had high hopes for this book, but I was disappointed.  Having a look at Goodreads, plenty of others really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it though, so if you are interested in the themes here I wouldn’t necessarily pooh-pooh this book out of hand just because it didn’t work for me.  On the other hand, if you are interested in searching out other books featuring dissociative disorders and their effects (on children and others) I would highly recommend the novel The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke (which I never reviewed on the blog but probably should have!), The Shiny Guys by Doug MacLeod, or any of the gut-wrenching and eye-opening memoirs about schizophrenia that are out there such as Flying with Paper Wings by Sandy Jeffs, Tell Me I’m Here: One Family’s Experience of Schizophrenia by Anne Deveson, or Henry’s Demons: Living With Schizophrenia, A Father and Son’s Story by Patrick and Henry Cockburn.

In completely unrelated news, the shelf is moving! Not this virtual shelf. You can still find us in cyberspace exactly where we’ve always been.  It’s the real, physical shelf that will be moving to a new home in the next week.  I mention this because that flightly mistress, WiFi, may or may not choose to make an appearance in our new home on time, and therefore we will be taking a week off from blogging from tomorrow (that’s January 17th).  I’m sure you’ll all miss us terribly, but we will be back with you as soon as we possibly can, hopefully on the 26th for 2015’s first round of Fiction in 50! Join us, won’t you?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

A Maniacal Book Club Review: The Frankenstein Journals…

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Allow me to bid fair morning to you, be you fleshling, stone-ish or monstrosity uncategorised.  Today the Maniacal Book Club is proud to present and discuss the soon-to-be-released middle grade novel The Frankenstein Journals by Scott Sonneborn, dealing, as it does, with the growing pains of a monster on a quest.  We were delighted to receive a digital copy of this illustrated lovely from the publisher via Netgalley – our sincerest thanks!

The Frankenstein Journals follows fourteen-year-old J.D. (John Doe) from the moment he learns that the only home he has ever known – Mr Shelley’s Orphanage for Lost and Neglected Children – is about to become his ex-abode, as Mr Shelley is no longer financially able to keep it open.  Before leaving, J. D. discovers his father’s old journal and is astounded to discover that he is the son of Frankenstein’s monster, and made up of a collection of …shall we say…recycled body parts.  Rather than being daunted by this new information, J.D. sees it as the perfect opportunity to obtain what he’s always wanted – a proper family – and resolves to seek out the descendents of those who once belonged to his parts and inform them of their tenuous biological link.  Before setting off on his quest, J.D. meets one Fran Kenstein, the daughter of the famous scientist and finds out that she too would like to meet J.D.’s family…but for reasons that are distinctly more sinister.  Now it’s a race against time, and J.D. is determined to find his long-lost cousins before Fran gets there first and sets whatever dastardly plan she has concocted into devillishly devious motion.

frankenstein journals

Now pop in your most high-functioning spare eyeballs for the thoughts of the Maniacal Book Club!

maniacal book club toothlessToothless 

This was a fun book to read even though there were no dragons.  There were some monsters though, so that was almost as good.  In one part there’s a sports mascot convention and there’s an enormous building filled with a huge crowd of people dressed as all kinds of animals and monsters.  And then a wolf-man turns up and started slashing things.  That was my favourite bit.  I really liked J.D.  He sounds like a fun and adventurous kind of guy. Shame there were no dragons though.  Maybe there’ll be some in the next book.

maniacal book club martha

Mad Martha

Being from the patchwork-monster genus myself, I found much to empathise with as I read J.D’s adventures.  And what a loveable young rogue he is, as pure of heart as any monster could feasibly be.  As usual, I have created a poem to express my enjoyment of this book.  I thought I’d branch out this time to limerickery.  Enjoy.

A lad formed from patchwork quite frightful

Met a lass with a plan truly spiteful.

He hoped for the best

and set out on a quest,

Sure his family would find him delightful!

maniacal book club guru dave

Guru Dave

Brothers and sisters, I hope with every stony fibre of my being that you grasp the message of hope that the son of Frankenstein’s monster presents to you in this book – the message that no matter how different one may be from others, by trusting in the goodness of one’s fellow wayfarers on life’s journey, a place of belonging can be found for all of us.

Heed also, my friends, the bad example of Fran Kenstein – that evil can dwell even in the hearts of the cutest teenage scientist.

 

maniacal book club bruce

Bruce

Now I’ve been reading a lot of middle grade fiction of this genre lately, and while this doesn’t quite match up to the slick, funny and original Origami Yoda series, for instance, The Frankenstein Journals has a charm all its own.  In this offering we are treated to the first two legs of J.D.’s body-part hunt (see what I did there?!), as he searches for the relations of his feet and one of his eyeballs (the green one, incidentally).  In the middle of the book there’s a sort of short recap of the first half of the story,  so I’m not sure whether the publishers originally intended on even shorter episodes, or whether they are catering to readers with short attention spans.  Either way, the plot is simple and flows from scene to scene with very little to slow the action. J.D., the main character, is so perfectly friendly and positive that you can’t help but hope for the best for his quest across continents to seek out his long lost family members. 

While the book would easily suit the interests of both genders, this will be a particular hit with boys.  In fact, I would suggest that while this is a middle grade novel, its appeal would lean toward the lower end of that age bracket, and I can certainly see confident readers around the eight to nine year old mark being thoroughly sucked in to J.D.’s silly and humorous adventures. 

What really added to the overall appeal of the book for me was the eye-poppingly colourful illustrations that appear throughout the story.  They absolutely bring J.D.’s story to life and will no doubt be very much appreciated by younger readers.  I have to say, the illustration of the “crowd scene” during the mascot convention that Toothless has already alluded to has got to be my favourite – like a Where’s Wally? of the animal kingdom, but without the distinctive bobble hat.

Our final deliberations have led us to the conclusion that this will be a hit with the monster-loving tween set, and for that reason it receives 8 thumbs up from the Maniacal Book Club.

imageimage

 

The Frankenstein Journals is due to be released on August the 1st.

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang!)

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Flash Giveaway (Australia Only): The Buried Life…

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Yes, you heard right! It’s a flash giveaway and it’s exclusively for Aussie residents – yipyah!

Thanks to Angry Robot Books, I am giving away one print ARC copy of The Buried Life by Carrie Patel.  This gaslight/steampunk murder mystery is due for release in early August, so the lucky winner will be among the first to get their paws on a copy.

the buried life

Here’s the synopsis (from Goodreads):

The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Ricoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.

When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…

Sound like your kinda thing? Of course it does. So enter using the rafflecopter link!

click to enter button

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Good luck,

 

Bruce

 

 

 

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Read-it-if Review: Blur … and a Fi50 reminder!

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Afternoon all! Today I have a murder-mystery-paranormal-YA new release for you and a reminder for all the dauntless creators of teeny-tiny narrative.  So without further faffing about, let me remind those who would like to participate in this month’s Fiction in 50 challenge that the prompt for May is…..

what comes after button

To join in, simply create a piece of fiction in 50 words or less and link it up to the linky in my post on Monday.  We always welcome new players (with a no hazing policy too – bonus!) and veteran challengees alike.  If you’d like to know more about the challenge just click on the attractive image at the top of the post.  Also, we’re coming up to the end of the prompts for this six-month period, so if anyone has suggestions for prompts for the second half of the year, let me know and I’ll try to include them.

Now on to the review!  I received a digital copy of this title from the publishers via Netgalley – thanks!

Today’s tome is Blur by Steven James, a paranormal murder mystery for the YA market.  In Blur, we are introduced to Daniel Byers as he and father are attending the funeral of a girl from Daniel’s school.  Daniel didn’t know Emily Jackson very well – nor, it seemed, did anybody from Beldon High School – but he and his father think it only right that they attend Emily’s funeral, after she was found dead following an accidental drowning in the local lake.  While viewing Emily’s casket, Daniel has a terrifying vision in which Emily’s corpse comes to life and instructs him to find her glasses.  When Emily’s ghost appears to Daniel again later on, during an important football game, Daniel thinks he may just be going crazy, but tries to comply with Emily’s wishes.  As Daniel delves deeper into the circumstances surrounding Emily’s death, he, his friends Kyle and Nicole and maybe-love-interest Stacey, uncover some clues that may point to Emily’s drowning being murder.  But who would want to murder a girl that nobody really took any notice of?  And are the visions that Daniel is having all just in his head?

blur

Read it if:

* you think murder just isn’t murder unless it produces a good old-fashioned haunting in its wake

* you know something about, or care about, or enjoy reading about, American football

* you like a murder mystery in which it is nigh on impossible to guess the murderer before s/he is revealed in the course of the story

So….you know how a week or two ago I was waxing lyrical on how there should be more murder mysteries written for this age group? Well…I’m kind of rethinking that pronouncement after reading this one.  Normally, as regular readers of my musings will know, I love a good paranormal and I love a good murder mystery, so all signs pointed to me thoroughly enjoying this book, but my overall impression is one of a narrative that was trying too hard to be all things to all people. Allow me to explain.

There’s not a lot to complain about regarding the actual story itself – it’s readable, the story flows reasonably well and there are a few good red herrings dotted about to lure the reader astray.  If this was just a plain murder mystery, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more.  Where I feel it fell down was in the paranormal elements.  Now, I can’t say too much about certain bits of the paranormal stuff because it would lead to spoilers, but essentially I felt that Daniel’s visions (and his Rainman-esque ability to solve mathematical problems in a split-second) didn’t really fill any meaningful purpose in the story.  In all honesty, the same story could have been told using a different plot device to engage Daniel and his friends in Emily’s murder investigation, without having to resort to paranormal stuff that seemed tacked on.

Similarly, there is a bully character in the story who hangs out with a pair of cronies and generally appears to hassle Daniel at key points in the narrative.  Again, I couldn’t figure out why they were necessary.  Did James just put them in because every school needs a bully? I’m not sure.  But their appearances could easily have been dropped from the book with very little change occuring in the overall narrative flow.

Finally, I had a real problem with the ending of this story.  From my point of view, a GOOD murder mystery allows the reader to think that they’ve solved the mystery just before the reveal, before having the story turned on its head in a clever and unpredictable fashion, thereby offering a warm feeling of satisfaction in the author’s skill at wiley trickery.  Unfortunately, in Blur, this warm feeling of satisfaction is denied the reader (or at least it was for me) because there is no possible way that the killer could have been guessed beforehand.  You know why?

**And this is a tiny little SPOILER, so don’t read the next bit if you don’t want to know about it…just skip ahead to the next paragraph**  I’m glad you asked.  The killer could not have been guessed because s/he was barely mentioned in the preceding couple of hundred pages.  In fact, I had to read the reveal a few times to get it, because I was going, “Who? Where does s/he come into it??”  So instead of a warm feeling of satisfaction at the author’s wiley tricksiness, I was left scratching my head and thinking, “Well that was unexpected. And fairly stupid.”  So after the reveal I spent a bit of time pondering why James would have selected a killer that essentially had no motive for a crime that took an enormous amount of effort to engineer.  And I came up empty.  Disappointing really.

**SPOILERY BIT OVER**

I realise, after looking at reviews over at Goodreads that I’m fairly well in the minority here, given that most other readers seem to have loved this book, but I’m afraid it just didn’t cut it for me and I won’t be seeking out the next books in the trilogy.  To be perfectly honest, what tipped me right over the edge was an adult character’s use of the word “addicting” close to the end of the book.  I think, silly character, the word you are looking for is “addictive”.  I can tell you that as I was already slightly irritated by the shonky reveal, having a character unnecessarily verbing an adjective (as dictionary cat would say) was like being unexpectedly poked in the eye with a sharp stick.

Once again, plenty of others have greatly enjoyed this book, so don’t let my whinging put you off.  If you like murder mysteries with a ghostly twist, this could appeal to you.  Blur is due for release on May 27th.

OH! A favour please, my American readers: What on earth is a “Homecoming” game and why is it so important?  I have never bothered to question this event before, but now my curiosity has arisen.  Where are the students/teams/school supposed to have been, to warrant a homecoming? And why do you select monarchs of homecoming, when you are so staunchly proud of your independence?  Thank you in advance for this cultural education.

Until next time,

Bruce

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If it Rains Pancakes: A Lantern Review…and a Fi50 reminder…

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Cheerio my dears, it’s Mad Martha with you today for a brand new poetical review…and a reminder from Bruce about the Fiction in 50 challenge for this month.  April’s Fi50 challenge will open on Monday for your links and entries and the prompt for this month is:

only joking button

All you have to do is create a piece of fiction in any form in 50 words or less!  For more information on how to participate, click on the button at the top of the post.  New players are always warmly welcomed.

Today I am reviewing a poetry tome for the mini-fleshlings and to add to the excitement I have no doubt just generated with those tantalising words, the book focuses on my favourite type of poetry – Haiku!  It also has a second type of Japanese poetry that I will be trying out later in this post – the Lantern, or lanturne.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The book is authored by Brian P. Cleary, illustrated in alluring fashion by Andy Rowland, and bears the wishful title If It Rains Pancakes. I was very pleased to receive a digital copy for review from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!

The book is split into two parts, each dealing with one style of poem.  The poem type is briefly explained and then a good number of examples is presented, each with it’s own quirky illustration.  The haiku form gets first billing in the book, and my favourite example from this section is the beautifully descriptive:

My pet pig, Betty

in her full karate stance

performs the “pork chop”

The poem is illustrated with Betty in full karate gi, energetically pork chopping the air. Perfect.

The second half of the book focuses on Lantern (sometimes called lanturne) poems, which are also based on syllables and follow the form of 5 lines with one, two, three, four and one syllables respectively.  I had not heard of this form of poetry before and couldn’t wait to give it a bash.  So without further ado, here is my review of If It Rains Pancakes…

rains pancakes

Rhyme:

it’s not

needed when

hatching haiku.

Word.

(I hope you appreciate my little attempt to be down with da hip crew of mini-fleshlings with my blatant display of their colloquial use of the word “word”.  Subtle, wasn’t it?)

This would be a fantastic addition to the shelf of any teacher who either (a) loves poetry of all kinds and can’t wait to engage students in the joy of creating Japanese poetry or (b) is terrified of teaching poetry and can’t wait to find a book that will make the job easy for them.  The funny examples and the quirky illustrations make this a very user-friendly tome and one that will also appeal greatly to kids who may be labouring under the misconception that poetry is boring, tricky, too hard or just not for them.  As I can personally attest, there is nothing funner…er, sorry, more fun…than attempting to squeeze syllables into a particular pattern for the glory of having produced a witty little haiku.  They can become quite addictive, and this book will help give a whole new generation a poetry habit.  That can only be a good thing, in my opinion.

If It Rains Pancakes will be released on May the 1st.

Adieu until we meet again,

Mad Martha

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Read-it-if Review: The Ratastrophe Catastrophe (The Illmoor Chronicles #1)…

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imageGood morning my valued minions readers! Today I have a little ripper for you.  It’s been a while since I’ve brought you a little ripper.  But here one is. It’s a rippingly, shreddingly, gnawingly good read.  It is Book 1 of The Illmoor Chronicles…The Ratastrophe Catastrophe by David Lee Stone.  I was lucky enough to receive a digital copy for review from the publisher via Netgalley, for which I am truly grateful.  You might have noticed the button over there indicating that this book is also part of my Fairy Tale Makeovers Review Series, as it is based on a fairy tale.  See if you can guess which…

The Ratastrophe Catastrophe follows a …colourful…cast of characters as they deal with a series of events that threaten to bring life in the city of Dullitch to a veritable standstill.  Simple farm lad Diek Wustapha is key to these events, in that it is he who is chosen by an ancient being of dark magic to be its new vessel.  After being commandeered by this ancient being, Diek finds that his flute playing suddenly ratchets up a notch (hooray!) but this newfound talent seems to come with the added complication of a compelling voice invading his thoughts and making him complete tasks that are somewhat ethically questionable (boo!).  Meanwhile, the Duke of Dullitch has his own problems. Big, hairy, rat-faced problems.  The city has been overrun by rats of all sizes and the Duke can find no other alternative than to advertise for mercenaries to neutralise the problem.  Enter Gordo and Groan, Jimmy Quickstint, Tambor the ex-sorceror and ex-town-councilman and of course the newly supercharged Diek, and you can be sure the problem will be dealt with in the quickest possible timeframe with the least amount of disruption to the people of Dullitch.  Or not.

ratastrophe catastropheRead it if:

* you don’t mind a bit of a rat infestation to liven up your town’s calendar of events (and drive out those pesky tourists)

* you’d happily swap some of the children around your dwelling in payment for a thorough and successful pest control program

* you’ve ever been considered woefully inept at a particular task…only to have your talent bloom like the last flower of the season to the astonishment, jealousy and mild-to-middling unease of those around you

* you adhere fervently to the motto “Never trust a simpleton with a flute and a parade of children trailing after him”

This was an unexpected fun, funny and surprising read.  I requested it thinking that it would be a dark, twisted retelling of the Pied Piper of Hamelin story, but instead found it to be a complex and hilarious politico-slapstick comedy of (mostly) errors.  I expected it to be a middle grade read, but the language and the plot are tricky enough as to place it almost at adult level in some places.  There is some wonderful satire based on the internal workings of a town council, and much of the humour is extremely dry – incidentally just the way I like it! – but I can’t imagine a middle-grade audience settling into the humour in the way I did as a grown-up.

The characters are a parade of wonderfully flawed and suspicious individuals.  There’s the barrowbird, purveyor of insults and spurious advice to its unlucky owner; Burnie, the translator turned town councillor who could easily be one of the cleverest of the bunch despite being a troglodyte; the unfortunate, pint-sized Mick, unwilling associate of unsuccessful adventurer Stump; Vicious, the Duke’s pet dog (at least we think it’s a dog); not to mention the inimitable mercenery duo of Gordo Goldaxe (dwarf) and Groan Teethgrit (barbarian).  And that’s mostly just the supporting cast!

This reminded me of nothing so much as the early episodes of the TV series Blackadder, and there are certainly a few “cunning plans” bandied about throughout the pages of this book (with generally the same success rate of those dreamt up by Baldrick).  Now obviously, given that this is based on the story of the Pied Piper, the reader generally knows how the story is going to turn out.  The author has thrown in so many supporting characters however, that there really is plenty of new stuff here to get your teeth into.

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I am very pleased that this is just the first in a series and I’ll be scouting about to get my hands on The Yowler Foul-Up which is book number two, and of which there is a small excerpt at the end of this edition.  Oh, and it would make the perfect choice for category eight of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – a book with wordplay in the title.  Click on the attractive button for more information about the challenge and to board the Safari bus!

You want my advice?

(“Yes!” they chorused, “Tell us, Bruce!”)

Don’t bother with the middle graders – buy this one for yourself.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Skin and Bones ARC: Read it if…

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Afternoon all! Today’s offering Skin and Bones by Sherry Shahan is due for publication in March 2014, so this review will be based on an eARC obtained from the publisher via NetGalley – thanks!

Skin and Bones follows the story of Jack (aka Bones) as he spends some time in a hospital inpatient program designed for teens with eating disorders.  Ever since a shop assistant handed Bones a pair of “husky” jeans to try on, he has had a troubling relationship with food.  Bones enters the program obviously in need of a few good hot meals and some probing therapy and finds himself  sharing a room with Lard, a compulsive overeater who is learning the cooking trade.  While in the program Bones meets Alice, a ballet dancer and fellow sufferer of anorexia – although from Alice’s point of view, she glories in it rather than suffering.  The book takes us on Bones’ journey of inner discovery, with some comic relief on the way, towards his eventual return to the outside world.

skin and bonesRead it if:

* you can’t go past a novel set in any kind of pyschiatric facility (surely there is a word for this sort of compulsion?)

* you have ever wondered how you could repurpose an idle dishwasher for the task of low-fat cooking

* you have ever been accidentally (or deliberately) insulted by an unthinking shop assistant/relative/friend/passerby and considered changing your entire lifestyle as a result

* you have any kind of interest in eating disorders, how they manifest, and how one might go about addressing them

Skin and Bones was an enjoyable and reasonably engaging read from my point of view.  I happen to have the (as yet) unnamed compulsion of attempting to read any and all novels set in psychiatric facilities that I can lay hands upon.  From that perspective, this book is pretty formulaic.  You have the cast of slightly odd but loveable patients, the ward staff who range from motherly to smothering, and the head therapist who is inevitably considered inept and patronising by all his patients.  The point of difference for this book however is the particular disorders with which it concerns itself.

As noted at the end of the book, eating disorders are highly prevalent among young people and on the rise among young men in particular.  This novel then could really hit a chord with teen readers who have experienced, or know someone who is experiencing, issues with food and/or body image.  Having not a great deal of prior knowledge in this field, the wily tricks that Bones and Alice used to assist them in their constant pursuit of weight loss were quite mind-boggling, and a real eye-opener into the complexity of this disease.  Also, given the relatively small amount of attention given in the media to males who are battling with negative perceptions of body image, this book could have great value in shining some light on how our crazy modern world has adversely affected young men.

Overall I found this to be an interesting addition to the genre, but not one that particularly stood out from the crowd.  For those YA readers who are into a bit of realism in their reading, this book will scratch an itch and hopefully allow readers to gain some new insights into the spectre of mental illness and eating disorders.

Just out of interest, for those thinking of joining the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge for 2014, Skin and Bones could potentially be an ideal choice for category five (a book with something that comes in pairs in the title), or category seven (a book with something unsightly in the title).  Hint, hint!

Also, just a reminder that the Kid Lit Giveaway Hop Holiday Extravaganza is still running for another week – click here to enter my giveaway and see the list of other participating blogs!

Until next time,
Bruce

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ARC Read-it-if Review: Man Made Boy…

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Afternoon all! Today’s offering is one that, since seeing the fantastic cover art, I had been excitedly anticipating…and then I managed to score an ARC review copy from Allen & Unwin Teen in return for an honest review.  Serendipitous, no? So our thanks to the publishers for making my anticipatory wonderings a reality.

Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron is a coming of age tale with a twist – the twist being that the creature doing the coming-of-age thing is the son of Frankenstein’s monster and his Bride.  The inventively named Boy; stitched-together beastie and thoroughly likeable protagonist, lives with a slew of other “mythical” creatures in a community hiding in plain sight from human society in the form of a theatre group.  Boy also happens to be something of a tech wizard, and after developing a new form of artificial intelligence, accidentally sets in motion events that have the potential to reach cataclysmic proportions for all involved.  Simultaneous to this concerning development, Boy attempts to leave the theatre to make his own way in the world – hence the coming-of-age themes mentioned earlier.

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Read it if:

* you’re a sucker for a good YA/sci fi/modern mythology/coming-of-age/paranormal romance crossover novel

* you’ve ever had stitches (or indeed bolts) in a prominent place, and felt that this may have inhibited your ability to blend seamlessly into polite society

* you are, or have ever entertained the dream of becoming, a mad scientist who creates a sentient, yet fundamentally flawed, creature for your own entertainment and/or personal gain

* you can overlook some minor problems with pacing and plot provided that there is at least one character with a rhyming name.  (…Paging Shaun the Faun…your presence is required…)

As I mentioned, I had really high hopes for this book based on the cover art alone.  Yes, I am that judgemental.  Did this book live up to those expectations? Sort of.

There is much to like in Skovron’s work here.  The characters, although lifted from historical mythical tales and classic literature, are given an overhaul to suit the modern urban setting while retaining their authentic character.  The two (or should that be three?) main teen characters, Boy and Claire/Sophie Hyde/Jekyll, are relatable, charming and flawed in ways that are believable, without being stereotypical.  The world building, in regards to the hidden monster communities, is well done and provides some good launching points to drive the plot forward.

The main problem I have with the book is the technology plotline revolving around the artificial intelligence program that Boy creates and sends out into the world.  I can’t say too much here, as I think it would be too spoilerish, but for me, the parts of the book in which this plotline featured seemed forced and out of place.  I had the overwhelming feeling that Skovron had actually got all the ingredients for TWO great novels – one revolving around a young monster finding his feet in the world, and another, that had no fantasy elements but explored the themes of artifical intelligence and the role and pace of technology in society in a psychological thriller-type story.

Having said that, while the technology aspect of the plot didn’t really work for me, it didn’t diminish the overall appeal of the book to the point where I had to put it down.  For my money, if Skovron can maintain my interest for 300 + pages despite a plotline that grated on every stony, critical and pedantic nerve in my body, I’ll be very interested to see what he can come up with next.  Overall, I think this book will have great appeal to its target audience of older teens for its likeable characters and modern twist on some old favourites.

For those who are faint of heart, let me also flag a warning for language, grand-theft-auto style gratuitous violence and humour related to alien-implemented anal probes.

Until next time,

Bruce

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