Picture Book Perusal: Doodle Cat is Bored

1

picture book perusal button

Today I am bringing you the second, bright and zippy adventure from Kat Patrick’s inimitable Doodle Cat, Doodle Cat is Bored.  If you haven’t met Doodle Cat before, you should probably pop off and have a squizz at his introductory adventure, I Am Doodle Cat, but in the meantime, just be aware that Doodle Cat is loud, proud and impossible to ignore.

Especially when he’s bored.

We received our copy of Doodle Cat is Bored by Kat Patrick from Scribble Publications and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Doodle Cat is back and he is very bored. Until he finds a thing!

But what is this thing and what does it do?

doodle cat is bored

From that eye-ball burstingly bright cover, through the hypnotic endpapers to an all in pangolin party, Doodle Cat is Bored is a book that will imprint itself on your memory.  If you have read I Am Doodle Cat, you will be aware that our feline protagonist is confident, outgoing and not afraid to think outside the box.  So it is with Doodle Cat is Bored, after Doodle Cat finds a thing – which turns out to be a crayon – and boredom evaporates in the wake of scribbles that evoke everything from interstellar, gas-propelled travel to the discovery of long lost, pasta-based relatives.

The bold font of the text and the bright, minimalist colour palette ensures that each page cries out to be looked at and this really drew the mini-fleshlings into this particular story.  There are a few pages here that take advantage of a wider range of colours – all from one single crayon! Fantastic! – and this added to the feeling that author had developed the concept of Doodle Cat as a character and was working well with the illustrator to highlight the importance of imagination without ramming the message down kid’s throats.

Doodle Cat is also not afraid to be a little bit indecorous and the mini-fleshlings were in fits of laughter after Doodle Cat decides to draw his own bum.  Bums, of course, being the height of comedy for three to six year olds in the dwelling.  They also quite liked Wizard Susan’s unusually stinky mode of travel, but it took a few moments for them to fully appreciate the gag.

This is a great addition to the Doodle Cat series and I’m pretty sure the mini-fleshlings enjoyed this one more than the first, possibly because the theme of imagination and entertaining oneself was easier to grasp on to.  This series is not your typical picture book experience, as the author and illustrator aren’t afraid to bend the conventions of picture book creation to create a totally unique character and story flow.

We highly recommend Doodle Cat is Bored for mini-fleshlings of your acquaintance who are prepared to take a risk on something a little crazy.

Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal: Do Not Lick This Book

3

picture book perusal button

Today’s book will have you running the gamut from “Oooh, that’s fascinating!” to “Bleeeeuuuuuuuuurrrrggh!” in a jolly and mildly nauseating romp around the world of microbes and their living environments…on your teeth, on your skin, in your intestines, inside this book, on your shirt….

We received a copy of Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Min is a microbe. She is small. Very small. In fact so small that you’d need to look through a microscope to see her. Or you can simply open this book and take Min on an adventure to amazing places she’s never seen before—like the icy glaciers of your tooth or the twisted, tangled jungle that is your shirt. The perfect book for anyone who wants to take a closer look at the world.

do not lick this book

Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak & Julian Frost.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th April 2017.  RRP: $19.99

This is a bright and intriguing gem of a book that blends actual electron microscope imagery with cute cartoons and hilarious text to create a fascinating and mind-expanding look into the world of microbiology.  Readers are first introduced to Min (a microbe) and encouraged to touch the page to pick Min up and take her on a journey to discover other microbes that may be in your local environment.

And by local environment, we mean on your actual person.  Inside your mouth.  On your clothes.  On the paper of the book you’re holding.  That kind of local.

Each new environment is accompanied by a double page image taken by an electron microscope and these we found absolutely fascinating.  Who would have thought paper looked like a collection of discarded mummy bandages from Min’s point of view?Or that the surface of your teeth resembled something planetary from Doctor Who?  These images are absolutely going to blow the minds of young readers and I can’t wait to watch the reactions of the mini-fleshlings in the dwelling when they get their paws on this book.

The microbe characters share some hilariously mundane dialogue throughout the book and as the story continues, the reader picks up different types of microbe, so that by the end of the book you’ve had a good overview of different types of microbes in different environments.  The “Bleeeeeurrrgh!” aspect that I mentioned came right at the end of the book for me, as I read the handy little fact sheet that shows what the microbes, rendered as cartoons in the story, actually look like and we find out that Min is actually an E. coli.

I was totally absorbed by this little book (*as an aside, I find that I’m enjoying kiddy science books far more than I ought to, given that I am an adult*) and I’m certain that this will be a smash hit for young science buffs and a rip-snorter of a classroom read-aloud.  For these reasons, we have branded this book a….

Top Book of 2017 pick!

top-book-of-2017-pick-button

If you, or any mini-fleshlings of your acquaintance have an interest in science – or just general grossness and interactivity in picture books – you MUST check out Do Not Lick This Book.

Until next time,

Bruce

TBR Friday: Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns…

4

TBR Friday

I desperately needed a quick read to squeeze in another book to keep up the momentum in my Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017  and lo and behold, there was Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns by Doug MacLeod sitting on the shelf waiting to step into the breach.

sister madge

Ten Second Synopsis:

The blurb at Goodreads tells us only that this book is “A collection of stories of life behind the walls of the Convent of Our Lady of Immense Proportions” and that should give you pretty much all the information you’ll need to help you decide whether or not you’re going to pick up this book.  In case you need more convincing, this a collection of fictional poems written by a fictional nun about all the other fictional nuns living at their fictional convent.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

A year, roughly?  Probably longer.

Acquired:

I had this book on my Goodreads TBR list and then I came across it on special at Booktopia so decided to snap it up.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

Sheer laziness.  Or, in more biblical terms, rampant sloth.

Best Bits:

  • The fact that the convent is called “Our Lady of Immense Proportions”.  Honestly, that’s enough of a laugh in itself to justify buying the book.
  • The poems take up about a page each and are accompanied by amusing illustrations.  There is enough variety in the personal vices of the nuns presented here – from feeding small children to zoo animals, to reading Women’s Weekly magazine, to riding motorbikes through a corner store – to amuse and delight even the most staid of religious zealots.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • This is a niche sort of a book that doesn’t necessarily warrant much of a re-read although it would be good to pass around to like-minded friends and colleagues.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

I suspect I could have had similar enjoyment from this one had I just borrowed it from the library.

Where to now for this tome?

To be sold at suitcase rummage.

I’m glad I’ve finally got this one out of the way, even though it is such a short book that I could have read it any time.  I promise that at the end of this month I’ll have a longer TBR book for you – Greenglass House is what I’m aiming to have read.  You can check out my progress toward the Mount TBR Reading Challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Gabbing About Graphic Novels: Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts…

1

gabbing-about-graphic-novels

If you are like me and find fairy tales and their retellings a mite tedious without some innovative new twist or format, then you will heartily appreciate Craig Phillips eye-poppingly viewable new collection, Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts: Ten Tales from the Deep Dark Wood.  This beautifully presented, large format book contains ten fairy and folk tales from around the world in graphic novel format.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Diverse myths and legends from around the world, from Iceland to Poland to Japan, retold in easy-to-read glorious full-colour comic book form by a stunning Australian artist with an international reputation.

A cobbler girl tricks the Wawel Dragon, after all the king’s knights fail…
The Polar Bear King loses his skin…
Momotaro, born from a peach, defies the ogres everyone else is too scared to face…
Snow White and Rose Red make friends with a bear…

From Poland to Iceland, Japan to Germany, these ten fairytales from across the globe re-told as comics will have you enthralled. Giants! Trolls! Witches! Beasts! You will encounter them all in this visual cornucopia of a book.

giants trolls witches beasts

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts: Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods by Craig Phillips.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26 April, 2017.  RRP: $24.99

Target Age Range: 

Lower Primary to adult

Genre:

Traditional fairy/folk tales

Art Style:

Cartoon realism

Reading time:

Rather than ripping through the whole thing as I normally would with a graphic novel, I read one story a night until I had finished the book.  This worked really well, because it gave me time to consider and absorb each story before moving on to the next. (So, to answer the question, it took me ten days to get through it).

Let’s get gabbing:

I love graphic novels and I am lukewarm-to-openly-hostile toward fairy tales, so one might expect that I would find my enjoyment of this book to be fair to middling, but the strong illustrative element has swung this one for me.  It seems, on reflection, to be an absolute no-brainer to liven up oft-told stories like fairy tales with vibrant illustrations but the use of full page illustrations in different frame layouts along with the traditional fairy tale style text and dialogue works incredibly well to flesh out the details and atmosphere of each story.  Some of the stories here, such as the tale of Baba Yaga, the story of Snow White and Rose Red and the myth of Finn McCool will be familiar to many readers, but mixed in with these are less typical (if you are from a European background, anyway) stories, such as Momotaro, the peach-boy and the tale of the Polar Bear King who is forced to wear a fleece of feathers.

The graphic novel format is just genius because it instantly broadens the audience of the book.  Teenagers, or older reluctant readers for instance, who might roll their eyes at the thought of reading fairy tales could easily pick up this tome without embarrassment and become absorbed in the visual appeal of the stories.  The text is in that traditional, sometimes a bit convoluted, fairy tale style and so might be a bit tricky for the lower end of the intended audience, but taken with the illustrations, this book has high appeal to a whole range of reading ages.

Overall snapshot:

I would absolutely love to see a follow up tome to this one from Phillips, with folk tales from an even wider range of cultures because the format is so readable and can so easily transfer between read-alone for confident readers, to read-aloud in a group setting, to read-together between parents and children snuggled up before bed.  What an innovative new way to present some old classics that we feel like we’ve all seen before.

Until next time,

Bruce

Meandering through Middle Grade: A Different Dog…

2

meandering-through-middle-grade

I’m back with another Paul Jennings new release today, courtesy of Allen & Unwin.  A Different Dog felt like a big departure from Jennings’ typical work, despite the fact that the twist in the tale is still present.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The gripping and surprising story of a boy, a dog and a daring rescue from the bestselling, much-loved author of the Don’t Look Now series and The Unforgettable What’s His Name.

The forest is dense and dark. And the trail full of unexpected perils. The dog can’t move. The boy can’t talk. And you won’t know why. Or where you are going. You will put this story down not wanting the journey to end.

But it’s from Paul Jennings so watch out for the ambush.

One of the best. From one of the best.

a different dog

A Different Dog by Paul Jennings.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th April 2017.  RRP: $14.99

When you’ve read almost everything a particular author has written over many years and suddenly they do something with a story you don’t expect, it can be hard to measure it against your previous experiences of their work.  So it was for me with this story.  A Different Dog has a much more subdued and sombre tone that much of Jennings’ previous work and the magical realism that often colours his stories and provides the impetus for his famous twists in the tail of the tale is absent here.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – just different from what I would have expected.

The story revolves around a boy who has been a selective mute (or possibly an anxiety-induced mute) since a traumatic incident involving a beloved pet.  He lives with his mother in livable poverty and is disconnected from peers due to his lack of speech.  While on a mission to win a cash prize in a community fun run, the boy witnesses a vehicle accident and attempts to help – but instead ends up trying to find his way out of the hillside terrain accompanied by a highly unusual dog, who was a passenger in the crashed vehicle.  Along the way home, the boy makes a number of life-changing discoveries…but his greatest challenge comes later when his friendship with the dog is tested by fate.

I quite enjoyed the subtleties of this story as a change from the wackier antics that embody Jennings’ usual fare.  Even though it is a reasonably short read, this felt more like a story for older readers who could appreciate the themes of grief, guilt and shame that ring-fence the boy’s image of himself.  There is a pointedness in the story relating to the cruelty of others, whether between humans or from humans directed at animals, and this left me with a bit of a sense of the sinister when I think back to the story.

On the whole, I think I prefer Jennings’ lighter works but A Different Dog is a thought-provoking read that uses a remarkably small word count to effectively raise questions about ethics, choices and making recompense for past mistakes.  This would be a great choice for reluctant young adult readers or those who require high-interest, low reading level tales for struggling older readers.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Meandering through (Aussie) Middle Grade: The Turnkey…

4

meandering-through-middle-grade

Today I’ve got the final book in my recent run of World War II related reads, with The Turnkey by Aussie author Allison Rushby.  We excitedly received this one from Walker Books Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Flossie Birdwhistle is the Turnkey at London’s Highgate Cemetery. As Turnkey, Flossie must ensure all the souls in the cemetery stay at rest. This is a difficult job at the best of times for a twelve-year-old ghost, but it is World War II and each night enemy bombers hammer London. Even the dead are unsettled. When Flossie encounters the ghost of a German soldier carrying a mysterious object, she becomes suspicious. What is he up to? Before long, Flossie uncovers a sinister plot that could result in the destruction of not only her cemetery, but also her beloved country. Can Flossie stop him before it is too late?

turnkey

The Turnkey is a solid, original and intriguing tale that has the perfect blend of mystery, history and paranormal activity.  Flossie is the Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery in London, a job which involves ensuring that the dead interred in the cemetery remain – for the most part – peacefully at rest.  With the Blitz causing chaos every night, Flossie seeks solace in visiting some of the other Turnkeys in London’s major cemeteries.  On a midnight sojourn to St Paul’s Cathedral – a favourite thinking spot – Flossie encounters a ghost who shouldn’t, by the laws of the afterlife, be there (never mind that he’s dressed in the uniform of a Nazi SS Officer) and is drawn into a mystery that could tip the scales of the war in favour of the Nazis.

Flossie is an immediately likable character and throughout the story demonstrates her resilience, courage in adversity and compassion for those in difficult situations.  The Nazi officer, who we discover has an unexpected link to Flossie herself, is suitably evil and frightening, and each of the Turnkeys that we meet has his or her own personality, quirks and in some cases, secrets.

I always love books for young readers that aren’t set in schools.  Apart from the fact that being school-less allows the author to neatly avoid all those boring, repetitive, school-bully-based tropes, the non-school setting also makes books for young readers more accessible and interesting for grown up readers.  Such was the case with The Turnkey.  In fact, I kept forgetting that Flossie was meant to be twelve years old – albeit a reasonably long-dead twelve years old – such was the adult appeal of the novel. I love a good set-in-the-Blitz story also and the mix of bombed out London with the atmospheric cemeteries really worked to give a sense of the never-ending clean up and rescue operations that coloured that particular time in London’s history.

The pacing of this story was spot-on, with no filler material included to slow things down.  Reveals came at regular intervals with just enough new information to spur the reader on to discover the next twist in the ghostly Nazi’s plans.  I was impressed with the way the author managed to maintain all the threads of the story without losing the quality of each along the way.  By the end of the book the reader gets to experience the paranormal aspect of the Turnkeys working together (plus some patriotic and enthusiastic ghostly members of the Chelsea Pensioners Hospital), a journey into Churchill’s war rooms and the war rooms of the Nazis, a glimpse into the reality of those living and dying in the rubble and shelters and hospital wards of London during the Blitz, and a fantasy element featuring ancient artifacts.  None of these separate plot threads felt forced or tacked on and taken together they added greatly to the originality and atmosphere of the novel.

The only thing that could have made this book better – as I say with pretty much every book, everywhere – would be pictures.  I remember seeing a documentary or something on the Chelsea Pensioners and their red jackets and it would be awesome (and instructive for younger readers) to see some images of these iconic characters, as well as some images of the actual cemeteries or London during the Blitz for example.  There is a little author’s note at the back with some historical information and it was nice to see that the author had also consulted that seminal of cemetery-related tomes, Katherine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and its Dead.  **I read this ages ago and thought I was amongst a select few, but it keeps popping up as a reference authors have used for lots of fiction books that I’ve come across.  Give it a read if you feel inclined.**

 

I’m fairly sure that this is intended as a standalone novel but I would be interested in seeing what happens next for Flossie.  Given that she’s dead and doesn’t have to age or experience the changes of growing up, it would be cool to see a progression of historical/fantasy/mystery novels featuring the Turnkeys of London’s major cemeteries in different time periods up to the present.  I’d read them, anyway!

If you are a fan of historical fiction, particularly World War II fiction and you can’t go past a paranormal twist I would definitely recommend hunting down The Turnkey.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Adult Fiction Mental Health Novel “In Two Minds”…and I am.

0

in two minds

I couldn’t resist the lure of a new novel featuring mental illness and its effects, from one of Australia’s leading psychiatrists, no less, and so here we are today with In Two Minds by Gordon Parker, founder of the Black Dog Institute.  We received our copy from Ventura Press for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Dr Martin Homer is a GP with a naturally sunny disposition. Honourable, attentive and trusted by all of his patients, Martin has only ever loved one woman – his wife, Sarah.

When his mother dies suddenly, Martin’s comfortable life is thrown into complete disarray. After sinking into the black dog of grief and depression, he ascends to new heights in a frenzied, manic high. Now, he’s never felt better!

In between riding his new skateboard around the streets at night and self-medicating from his stash at work, the artificially elated and self-entitled Martin crosses paths with Bella, a beautiful and sexual young woman profoundly damaged by trauma of her own.

In Two Minds takes you on a quirky, rollicking journey that unveils the complexities of mental illness with wit and warmth. Gordon Parker’s impressive career in psychiatry reveals itself through extremely rich descriptions of depression, bipolar and borderline personality characteristics.

It must be said that when you’ve read a lot of books, both fiction and nonfiction, featuring mental illness of one form or another, things do tend to get a bit samey.  This is one of the reasons I am in two minds about In Two Minds – if this had been the first novel I had read in which the protagonist has a breakdown and ends up in a psychiatric unit, I may have been more interested in the outcome.  Indeed, if I had not had the pleasure of spending some time in a psychiatric hospital myself, I may have been more entranced by the ins and outs of what happens when you are deemed no longer able to manage your own affairs without cocking things up in spectacular fashion.  If you have not had such an experience yourself, and you aren’t elbow deep in the back catalogue of “books about people losing their marbles in various painful and unexpected ways” then you should find In Two Minds to be compelling reading.

Martin Homer is an all-around good bloke.  He loves his wife, is wholeheartedly devoted to his work as a GP and generally sets the standard for good behaviour and personal growth everywhere he goes.  Bella is a woman with a past and a borderline personality disorder (**I’ve always wondered why the “borderline” part is added to the “personality disorder” part of that description, because there ain’t nothin’ “borderline” about Bella’s crazy, vitriolic antics**).  When Martin’s self-medicating after the death of his mother leads to a manic episode, the trajectories of Bella and Martin cross and Martin’s prior grip on his identity, his marriage and his work is shattered.

The story is told in alternating sections between Martin and Bella, with Martin’s story taking the primary position.  Really, this is a story about Martin and Bella is a bit player, albeit one whose back story is essential to the plot for her actions toward Martin to be in any way believable.  The author mentions the Madonna-whore complex early on in the story and all of the women presented here in any detail are indeed Madonnas (Edina, Martin’s mother, and Sarah, Martin’s wife) or whores (Bella, the Trophettes).  Bella’s early history, which the reader discovers at the end of the book, even indicates that she was a literal whore, working as a prostitute.  There was something unsettling about this for me, and I would have liked to have seen a few chapters written from Sarah’s point of view.  It seemed a little unfair to have such a focus on the man-slaying Bella and the existential crisis of Martin (post-mania) and so little focus on the woman who chooses to “stand by her man” as it were, despite the fact that he’s just undergone a major change in personality and behaviour.  In fact, had there been more of a focus on Sarah, this would have been a point that set this novel apart from the multitude that have gone before it; as important as the perspective of the sufferer of mental illness undeniably is, it would be instructive to read something from the point of view of the supporter – the spouse, significant other, family member – of the sufferer.

One thing that really does set this book apart is that it isn’t focused on talking therapy in any way.  Much is made in the early chapters of Martin’s past and the various tragedies and triumphs that shaped who he is.  I was expecting that this information would be somehow revisited later in the book as part of Martin’s recovery, but this wasn’t the case.  Instead, the section of the book dealing with Martin’s recovery is focused almost entirely on the various medications he is treated with, their side effects and the way they interact.  This may explain the slight disconnect I felt between the early parts of the story, in which Martin’s family and Sarah play such a strong role, and the latter parts, in which all of the key stressors and factors that almost certainly factored into Martin’s illness are glossed over in favour of his response to medication.  Even though it wasn’t what I was expecting, this certainly was a point of difference that makes this book stand apart from others on a similar topic.

The author may have even not-so-subtly inserted himself into the story by means of Saxon Marshall, Martin’s treating psychiatrist.  The name of this character struck me as interesting, and this may just be me receiving coded messages through the TV and novels here, but Saxon is the surname of the Master as played by John Simm in David Tennant’s run of Doctor Who, while Marshal is the given name of one of a psychiatrist character in Irvin Yalom’s Lying on the Couch (see below).  I can’t help but wonder if this was a conscious choice of character moniker and if so, what does it say about ol’ Gordon Parker, eh?  (**Probably not much because it’s probably not a conscious naming device, and just me projecting.  It should have been though – mashing the two characters together is quite evocative, imo**).

I was a little confused at the ending of the book.  There is an ambiguous ending for Martin, which I think worked well given we, as readers, leave him so soon after his diagnosis and early recovery.  It was a clever move to end his story at this point and leave us wondering what became of him.  More curious however was the ending of Bella’s narrative trajectory.  Toward the very end of the book, we are privy to even more of Bella’s backstory and the introduction of a new key character in Bella’s life.  I couldn’t get a grasp on why this was included, unless it was only to set up Martin’s ambiguous departure, because it certainly didn’t heighten my empathy for Bella in any way and felt like too much of an information dump after the climax of the story.

Having finished up the book, I had a quick flick through some similar books of my acquaintance and, as I mentioned at the beginning of the review, books featuring mental illness of one kind or another do tend to blend together after a while.  I definitely experienced shades of The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence (female protagonist with bipolar disorder), Terms and Conditions by Robert Glancy (professional male protagonist coming to terms with a change of identity concept and mental trauma), and most obviously, Irvin Yalom’s, Lying on the Couch (multiple psychiatrists go through various psychiatrist-y problems and as in all of Yalom’s work, boobs are mentioned a lot).

If you are looking for a truly original story about the whirlwind of depression, mania and psychosis, then I would suggest trying Kathleen Founds’ brilliant When Mystical Creatures Attack!  If you are an entry level journeyperson regarding novels about mental health or you have an interest in bipolar disorder, depression and mania generally, definitely give In Two Minds a go.

I’m submitting this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge for 2017 in category #51: a book about a difficult topic.  You can check out my progress toward that challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce