A YA Fiction Double-Dip: Bobby Ether and Drawing Amanda…

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G’day folks and welcome to my YA Double-Dip.  I’ve got two YA indie fiction titles for you today (obviously) – Bobby Ether and the Academy by R. Scott Boyer and Drawing Amanda by Stephanie Feuer.  I received a digital copy of both books from the publisher (Bobby via Netgalley and Amanda via Hipso Media) in return for an honest review.  So let’s get cracking!

One minute Bobby is shooting the miraculous winning basket at his school’s basketball match and the next hebobby ether‘s being whisked away by a mysterious woman named Cassandra, with two large men in suits in hot pursuit.  It seems Bobby has a hidden talent – an ability to manipulate the energy in himself and in the outside world, in order to do extraordinary things – but this is the first Bobby’s heard of it!  Before he knows it, Bobby is stolen away from Cassandra by the suited men and taken to The Academy – a boarding school hidden high in the mountains of Tibet, run by monks and teachers with extraordinary abilities.  Bobby tries to blend in and slowly makes a few good friends, but the snooty Ashley and her thuggish sidekicks immediately begin to make Bobby’s life difficult.  And making friends with Ashley’s younger brother Jinx sure doesn’t helped that relationship.

As Bobby learns more about the Academy, he and his friends discover that there is something sinister going on that may reach all the way to the headmistress.  But can Bobby stay out of trouble long enough to uncover the secret? Or will Ashley and her friends always be there to get in the way?

Dip into it for….

…a very original premise.  I’ve not read anything much like this before in YA – the book has a real focus on power coming from the natural energy available within ourselves, as opposed to a paranormal type of talent.  There’s  a bit of focus on meditation and how to unlock the potential within and the monks in the book are a really interesting addition to the overall makeup of characters.  Master Jong, one of Bobby’s teachers, turns out to be quite the (metaphorical) ass-kicking, supermonk by the end of the story and ended up being one of my favourite characters.  The plot is also pretty complex, featuring a shady agency (the Academics) whose motives and intentions for the talented young people they educate isn’t exactly clear, and there are a lot of characters whose true loyalties are shrouded, making it difficult for Bobby (and the reader!) to know who to trust.

There is also a clear (but not cheesy) theme of the strength of friendship and the power inherent in knowing oneself that runs throughout the book, freshening the whole plot up a bit and helping it avoid descending into a teen version of a politico-psychological thriller.

Also, there’s a creepy bald kid with a malevolent ferret. You’ve got to admit, you don’t see that every day.

Don’t Dip if…

…you’re not into plots that take a while to unfold or plots that have a lot of twists and turns and red herrings thrown in.  I also felt that a lot of the mean-girl type bullying from Ashley and her goons was a bit contrived, given the setting (would super-talented kids trained in mindfulness and meditation locked away in the Himalayas (some since birth) really bother with petty schoolyard antics to such a degree?).  Some of the initial action which results in Bobby’s arrival at the Academy, and his responses afterward also didn’t ring true to me.  I can’t really elaborate much, due to potential spoilers, but Bobby’s behaviour didn’t seem in character for someone who had been through a recent personal trauma.

Overall Dip Factor:

Take a risk on something different.  Despite a few flaws, I was drawn in and despite feeling that I should put it down in a few places, I didn’t and was quite satisfied that I stuck with it because I ended up enjoying the adventure of the resolution.  Plus, Jinx is a cool character.  And of course there’s the malevolent ferret.

In Drawing Amanda we follow “Inky” Kahn as he struggles on entering high school afteDrawing Amandar the recent death of his father in a plane crash.  His mother has left him to his own devices and to manage his grief, Inky turns to his artistic abilities.  Amanda is new to school following her family’s migration from Nairobi to New York, and is finding it more than difficult to fit in amongst the various groups at the international school.  When Inky’s best friend Rungs gives him the link to a website developing a new video game, Inky thinks he might have a chance to show his art to a wider audience. Unbeknownst to Rungs and Inky, Amanda manages to copy the link and also logs in to the game-in-development, Megaland.  When Inky starts submitting his drawings for the game, based on his classmate Amanda’s looks, things start to get  complicated.  And when Rungs delves a bit deeper into the makers behind Megaland, it becomes apparent that things are about to get very tricky indeed.  Unless he can convince both Inky and Amanda of what he has discovered, both his friends may be exposed to more danger than either can handle on their own.

Dip into it for…

…a contemporary tale about fitting in, growing up and facing your demons.  This was a nice change of pace from my usual fare because I don’t often read books in the YA category that don’t have some kind of paranormal or fantasy or psychological twist.  This was a very straightforward plot and I enjoyed the simplicity of the story, while also appreciating the various trajectories of character development for the main four characters.  The setting of an international school gave rise to a diverse range of characters and I loved how Feuer managed to seamlessly work cultural and religious backgrounds into the story without making it sound contrived.  I even learned not to show the soles of my feet to a Buddhist if I wish to remain in their good karmic books!

Central to Inky’s character development is the idea of grief and bereavement, and the pressure that can be placed on the bereaved to “move on” and regain one’s former pace of life after a particular period of time has passed.  It was interesting to see this played out with both a male and female character simultaneously in the book, as Inky’s ex-friend Hawk is also recovering from the death of a parent.  The theme of creating one’s identity is also quite strong as Amanda attempts to find a new way of being in a context in which everyone else seems to have already cemented their place.

The underlying plot point about internet safety is played out with a fair amount of realism and Feuer manages to avoid preaching about it, instead demonstrating how easy it is for those who feel emotionally vulnerable to be taken advantage of by someone they think they know.

Don’t Dip if…

…you’re looking for anything particularly fast-paced or with a focus on action or romance.  It aint’ here.

There is however a fair chunk towards the end of the book that deviates from the main story arc and focuses on the main characters’ major assignment for the year.  While this section was interesting in itself, I felt it popped up at a weird place in the story because Rung’s investigation into the Megaland maker had just become exciting and this deviation slowed the pace a little bit.  This wasn’t reason enough to abandon the book by any means, but you might want to watch out for a few asides now and then.

Overall Dip Factor:

This will appeal greatly to kids in the younger YA age group, say 12 to 15 years, because it features very relatable characters and deals with the issues that many kids face when trying to stake out an identity in a crowded social arena.  Also, the story is simple and relevant to anyone who uses the internet for social activities – so I suspect this story will appeal to parents and teachers of readers in this age bracket as well.  In fact, it would probably make a great launching point for discussion in lower secondary classrooms about mindful internet usage amongst young people.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Small Fry Safari Challenge Haiku Review: Mirror…

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small fryBonjour my lovelies, it is Mad Martha with you today for a haiku review that is doubling as a submission in the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge.  If you haven’t yet heard about this fantastic and very user-friendly challenge you can click on the attractive button to the right.  If you’d like to take a peek at some of the other challengees’ submissions, you can find them helpfully collated here.

I am pleased to submit the very first entry in category two, which in my opinion is the trickiest of the lot: a book with a piece of furniture in the title.  My submission is Mirror by Jeannie Baker.  I submit it under the sub-clause that a mirror is a furnishing, and therefore fits the category. Hey, it’s my challenge and I can bend the rules if I want to.

mirror

If you haven’t yet encountered Mirror (or indeed, any work by Jeannie Baker), then you, my dear friend, are missing out, for this particular work is a triumph of artistic and conceptual design.  The wordless picture book follows the story of two young boys – one in Sydney, Australia and the other in the Valley of Roses in Morocco.  In an ingenious twist however, the story follows the boys simultaneously across four pages, with each single page folding out to a double page spread, as pictured below.  **Please note that the TARDIS pictured was merely being used to aid in keeping the pages still and has no relation to the events depicted in Mirror. As far as I know, anyway.**

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In this way, the daily activities of each boy and his family are displayed side by side in glorious detail. On one side, information is displayed in English and on the other, Arabic, and so the book really reflects the concept of “two sides to every story”.  Throughout the book keen-eyed readers are treated to Baker’s trademark collage art and the opportunity to search for repeated motifs across the boys’ activities.  Apart from being a visual treat, the book is also a brilliant starting point for discussing similarities in the lives of those who seem, on the surface, to be living in very different contexts.

So here is my haiku:

Holding a mirror

to our preconceived notions

inspires reflection

 And here’s some more of the artwork to whet your appetite:

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 Now, I suggest you pursue this title without delay! And there’s still plenty of time to sign up for the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – it’s only eight books in total that you have to read to be able to say you have conquered the Safari!  Join us on the Safari bus, we’d love to have you along.

Ta-ra my dears,

Mad Martha

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Litera-tees: Tees for Readers (#3)…

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Afternoon all – I present you with a lazy, consumerist post for a lazy Tuesday afternoon….here are some more tees for the literary-minded, plus some very convenient information on who designed them and where you can spend your hard-earned cash purchasing them. You’re welcome, shoppers!

First up, some Harry-related loveliness:

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—we have Master of Death by Catch A Brick, available at RedBubble….

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…and Just As Sane As I Am by the unnecessarily talented Megan Lara, also available at RedBubble…and if you like Megan Lara’s nouveau art, she has produced a whole range of tees in this style with various characters – Hermione and many of the recent Doctor Who companions to name a few.

For the Tolkien fans, apparently it is possible to simply walk into Mordor, if this tee is anything to go by:

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It’s titled Simply Walk, is designed by Tom Kurzanski and is available at RedBubble

For those who like to express their opinions on the classics:

moby dicky…we have Moby Dicky by Budi Satria Kwan available at threadless

For those who like a bit of film with their bookery:

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…here’s Vader Read A Book available at WeLoveFine shop…

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…and Movies: Ruining the Book since 1920 by Jayson Dougherty, available at threadless

And finally, just because I love it and want someone to buy it for me (Att: Santa Claws!):

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It’s the Grim Readers’ Book Club by WinterArtwork, available at Shirt.Woot

Layby now for Christmas!

Until next time,

Bruce

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Monstrously Awesome: Goodies for those who type…

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Be you blogger, author or internet troll, have I got a find for you! Given that it’s winter round my neck of the shelf, I thought it was high time to consider the very real problem of typing-related hand-chilliness.  While pondering ways to overcome this issue, I came across two fantastically fashionable solutions…..

Looking for ways to brighten up the unending toil that is writing (or reading) an epic fantasy novel? Look no further than these stylish dragon or monster knitted fingerless gloves by HotScones, available at etsy.com:

And while these next ones aren’t fingerless – perhaps more suited to readers rather than typists – the little grizzly faces are just darling!
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Next up from Scoper Monstar and also available at etsy.com are these absolute gems for the more flamboyant icy-fingered literacy fan.  This first offering is perfect for the out-there author of that ground-breaking book exposing bet-fixing scandals in miniature goat racing – fingerless hooves!

 

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And for the fan of horror or the late-night reader of Where the Wild Things Are, who could go past these fantastic monster paws (available in a wide range of colours!)?:
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Both of these provide snuggly warmth to your hands while allowing your fingers to get on with the business of doin’ stuff!

Click on the pictures above to be taken straight to the etsy shops of these fine craftspeople!

Until next time, may your every paw be cosy!

Bruce

 

 

 

Colour Me Confused: Inexplicable Subjects on which to base a Colouring Book

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As many of you know, I’m a great fan of the BookDepository.  Apart from their fantabulous range of books, low, low prices, and free international shipping (!), I find great enjoyment in their search mechanism. I get unfathomable delight from typing in a random word and casting my eyes over the numerous and unexpected titles that pop up.  It’s like fishing in Lake Oddball.  In fact, even an innocent word like “colouring” will turn up the most bizarre range of tomes.  Books that make you think, “now what publisher in their right mind thought THAT would be a big hit amongst the community of colouring-in enthusiasts?”

So today I will share with you some of the more exciting titles that have turned up in the fishing net of the Good Ship Catalogue Trawler.  These are but a small sample, mind, of the hilariously weird titles that lurk in the search engine, just waiting for their chance to be spotted by that niche-market colouring fan…please, enjoy:

  • Stewing over a birthday present for the Li’l Dawg or Li’l Shawty in your life? The Gangsta Rap Coloring Book may be just what the gang leader ordered!   In fact, why not follow the gift to its logical (and inevitable) conclusion, and give it in conjunction with the Police Station Coloring Book, which helpfully features “thirty full-page drawings introduce youngsters to a host of law enforcement professionals on the job”.  It’s never too early for youngsters to appreciate art imitating life.

gangsta rappolice station

  • If appreciating art’s contemporary forms is more your show, why not test your pastels on Body Art: the Tattoo Design Coloring Book?  This little gem features “men and women showing off tattoos on their arms, legs, and backs”.  That’s right!   For all you aspiring tattoo artists, this book will provide essential practice at colouring inside the lines – before you try it with indelible ink on your unsuspecting and probably drunk best friend.

body art

  • For those of a more sedate, and dare I say, modest disposition, here are two offerings to satisfy your bland and uncomplicated desires. If An Amish Farm Coloring Book doesn’t quite scratch that itch, I guarantee you will be transported to your happy place by the Historic Southern Lighthouses Coloring Book.  Thankfully, both of these books are part of a series, so you need not fear running out of Amish or Lighthouse related imagery to render in living colour.

amish farm  lighthouse

  • Finally, after constant hectoring from the Slightly Creepy Equine Enthusiasts Lobby, Dover Publications has thoughtfully made available the Horse Anatomy Coloring Book.  If you’ve ever thought that colouring in the outside of the horse was simply not enough, Dover has thoughtfully rectified this thorny issue by providing pages depicting the horse’s “skeleton, muscles, nervous system, and major organs” for your colouring pleasure.  Red and white crayons at the ready, kiddies!

horse anatomy

In case you thought these were the most bizarre, I have actually excluded the most inexplicable colouring book that I’ve come across.  That one is dedicated entirely to the reproductive hardware of female fleshlings. I would have included it here, but the title contains a word that is considered particularly rude and unsavoury amongst more civilised fleshlings.

I’ll let you all go now so you can make sure your colouring pencils are sharp enough to tackle the challenges contained in these tomes….Incidentally, if anyone owns one of these books, I’d love to see some finished examples.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Gargoyle’s Gift Guide: For List-makers, Diary-keepers and General Book-wreckers…

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Evenin’ all! Today I present to you some ideas for those most insidious people on your  list…you know the ones…they’ve already finished their Christmas shopping by August at the latest, they’ve printed out all those digital family snaps and arranged them artistically in some sort of scrapbook, and they use words like “reflecting” and “goal setting” and “making dreams a reality”.

And then there’s some suggestions for that other lot – the ones who spill tea on that brand new first edition hardback you bought them for their birthday; the ones who write phone messages in crayon on the wall because they couldn’t find pen and paper, the ones who tear out pages and use them to wrap gifts because it’s more eco-friendly than buying wrapping paper….

Honestly, it makes one shudder to think about it. Yet still, gifts must be exchanged….so I have made your job easy.  You can thank me with appreciative glances and quiet murmurs of praise.

For List-Makers:

Look no further than The A-Z Book of Curious Lists: A Journal for the Impossibliy Imaginative.  This cracker of a book provides fresh fodder for those obsessive little munchkins who cannot make it through a day without making a list.  With a list idea for every occasion, this will keep them so busy that their “To-do” List will remain untouched for days.  Some of my favourites are:

  • Other Names Besides Harold for an Elephant
  • Indecent Attire in Which to Attend the Opera
  • and Unpromising Haiku Beginnings (in response to which, my fleshling owner has written “There once was a man from Nantucket”)

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For Diary-Keepers:

For a twist on the run-of-the-mill diary experience or for those who are time- and imagination-poor, Q&A a Day: A 5 Year Journal is just the ticket.  This pocket-sized memory-protector provides enough space to write a single answer to a given question five times over, to cover the same date over five consecutive years.  The advantage of this is that you only have to write one sentence a day and you can cheat off last year’s answer if you can’t think of an original one.  My favourite questions from this one so far are:

  • What is your Achille’s Heel?
  • What can you smell right now?
  • and What new word have you learned? (to which my fleshling owner has responded: “Moral turpitude”….which is quite obviously two words, not one.  It really is a wonder I’m not presiding over piles of books that begin with “See Dick Run”…)

qanda a dayFor Book-Wreckers:

For this most difficult group, one cannot go past Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith.

wreck this journal

This licence to spill, mess up and generally destroy is perfect for anyone who wants to break free from the shackles of conformity…and anyone who’s just a bit bored in work-related meetings.  While I am yet to become guardian of this tome on my personal shelf (my fleshling owner obviously being more kindred with the precocious group of list-makers and diary-keepers), I have searched for some examples of work completed in this book to give you an idea of what you may be in for.  Such as this:

bleurgh journal

and this fluffly little gem:

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So once again dear readers, I hope these suggestions aid you in your neverending and ultimately unsatisfying search for that perfect gift.  And if Santa happens to be reading, Mad Martha would love a copy of Wreck this Journal (being a firm encumbent of the book-wrecking population).

Until next time,

Bruce

Simply Gargoylicious: A cute tee for allies of gargoyle kind

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Just had to share this one. It has nothing to do with books. It has everything to do with gargoyles.

Vote for it to get printed at shirt.woot.com if you like, here: http://shirt.woot.com/derby/entry/66860/shy-pocket-monster

Until next time (which may be sooner than you think!)

Bruce