Picture Book Perusal: Doodle Cat is Bored

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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

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TBR Friday: Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns…

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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

OzYA, Cults and Suspending One’s Disbelief: The Boundless Sublime…

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the boundless sublime

The Bounless Sublime (Lili Wilkinson) Published by Allen & Unwin, 27 July 2016.  RRP: $19.99

I have a right little firecracker of a story for you today, gratefully received from Allen & Unwin for review.  The Boundless Sublime is a new YA novel by Aussie author Lili Wilkinson, dealing with grief, abandonment, love, vulnerability and coercion.  I was in two minds about this one while reading it, but on reflection, I think Wilkinson has crafted a clever story here that is most believable because to many of us, it won’t be believable at all. I will explain this contradictory statement, but first, here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Ruby Jane Galbraith is empty. Her family has been torn apart and it’s all her fault.

The only thing that makes sense to her is Fox – a gentle new friend who is wise, soulful and clever, yet oddly naive about the ways of the world. He understands what she’s going through and he offers her a chance to feel peace. Fox belongs to a group called the Institute of the Sublime – and Ruby can’t stay away from him. So she is also drawn in to what she too late discovers is a terrifying secretive community that is far from the ideal world she expected.

Can Ruby find the courage to escape? Is there any way she can save Fox too? And is there ever really an escape from the far-reaching influence of the Institute of the Sublime?

A gripping YA novel about an ordinary girl who is unsuspectingly inducted into a secretive modern-day cult.

Having sat on the shelf of a university undergrad completing a major in Studies of Religion, many moons ago, I have already had an interesting taste of the research that has gone into cults, or new religious movements, as they are sometimes called.  I didn’t realise until I’d seen some reviews of this one that it featured cultish content, but once I did know, I was a bit sceptical as to how the author was going to make this an engaging story without it becoming cheesy and unrealistic.

The book opens on a pretty dour note: Ruby is living in a sort of suspended time with her mother after a tragic accident that caused the permanent separation of their family.  Ruby’s mother is practically catatonic, Ruby can’t find meaning in doing the everyday things like going to school and life generally seems to be a pointless, meaningless black hole.  It is from this viewpoint that Ruby interprets the unexpected kindness of Fox, a young man handing out free bottles of water on the street.  She sees him as beautiful, in an almost otherworldly way, and is drawn to his naivety and his seemingly solid grip on his world.

From here, it is only a matter of time – and the painless severing of a few social and familial ties – until Ruby is subsumed into Fox’s social circle and into a community of “like-minded” souls, and the “cult” aspect of the story really begins in earnest.

This book felt to me like it had a few distinctive parts.  Initially, we see the surly, disconnected and generally unlikable Ruby who is so focused on the guilt, grief and chaos of her life that any other viewpoint seems laughably untenable.  Soon after this we see a bit of insta-love or at least, infatuation, as Ruby becomes consumed with thoughts of Fox and sees him as an almost-saviour from her meaningless existence.  Then comes doubting Ruby, who questions her new situation yet lacks the will to act in her own best interests. I won’t say any more than that because one of the best parts of the book, I felt, is the fact that Ruby goes through so many changes in thought process and personality, that the atmosphere of the story is constantly in flux and we just aren’t sure what will happen next.

A number of reviewers have noted that parts of the story seem so ridiculous and unlikely that they couldn’t suspend their disbelief in order to engage with the stories.  On one level, I can certainly see where they are coming from, becuase there were times during the book that I too was thinking, “AS IF!”  I think that in order to appreciate it fully, one has to come at the story from the point of view that none of us thinks that we would ever be “dumb” enough to get caught up in a cult.  Even Ruby has her doubts and eye-roll moments at the beginning.  Part of the power of cults is that recruitment relies on individuals who are vulnerable, possibly suffering under mental illness or at least mental stress, and in a social position from which it is easy (or even preferable) to disengage – and Ruby fits the bill on each of these counts.  Add to that the fact that she is a teenager, without fully developed reason centres in her brain, and the thought of a clever, attractive young girl getting caught up in such a community – and then being unable to find a way to leave it – isn’t such a stretch.

This isn’t meant to be a factual book about cults – it is fiction, for young adults, with crazy romance, teen angst and all of the other things that typify YA, so in that regard I feel I can cut it some slack in the unbelievability stakes.  If you are prepared to come at it with a bit of an open mind and the knowledge that some events will seem a unlikely, then you will find an unusual and pacey tale featuring action, philosophical debate, love, betrayal, crazy gurus, bald-headed children and a second half that pelts toward the finish.

Give it a crack and let me know what you think!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Shouty Doris Interjects about…Madness: A Memoir

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Shouty Doris interjects

Welcome one and all to a new feature here at the shelf – Shouty Doris Interjects! Every so often you come across a book that will arouse strong emotions. When this happens, you may find yourself shouting (in your head, mostly), at the book, the author, the characters – whatever it is that has you all het up. Well around the shelf we have someone who takes this interjection to the next level. She is known as Shouty Doris. She is a denizen of the shelf and often takes it upon herself to loudly interject when happening upon certain emotion-provoking reads. And so we have given her a feature. She is a vocal non-fan of modern technology, so I was forced to create an artist’s impression of her countenance for the feature button. It’s quite a good likeness, I think. So enjoy this new feature – I hope Shouty Doris’s shoutiness will give you some sense of the complex issues behind today’s book.image

I’m also popping this one in for the Non-Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader, hence the  comfy armchair.

The book is Madness: A Memoir by Kate Richards and here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Madness is a real world for the many thousands of people who are right now living within it. It never apologises. Sometimes it is a shadow, ever present, without regard for the sun. Sometimes it is a well of dark water with no bottom, or a levitation device to the stars. Madness, a memoir is an insight into what it’s like to live with psychosis over a period of ten years, in which bouts of acute illness are interspersed with periods of sanity. The world is beautiful and terrifying and sometimes magical. The sanctity of life is at times precious and at times precarious and always fragile. It’s a story of learning to manage illness with courage and creativity, of achieving balance and living well. It is for everyone now living within the world of madness, for everyone touched by this world, and for everyone seeking to further his or her understanding of it, whether you think of madness as a biological illness of the brain or an understandable part of the continuum of the human condition.

madness a memoir

Right from the start, I found this to be a harrowing read. I had just picked it out for a bit of pre-naptime reading and was treated to a very graphic and frankly, stomach-churning description of the author’s attempt to amputate her own arm. While this was definitely not what I was expecting as an opening gambit, it was undoubtedly compelling and I knew that this would be an engaging read.

Shouty Doris interjects

It was bloody disgusting, all that talk about fatty tissue and seeping blood. I nearly had to reach for the sick bag. Honestly, books like this should come with a warning. I had to take one of my tablets to calm down.

This was not the first memoir I’ve read from someone diagnosed with Bipolar, but what set this one apart was the fact that it was written by a trained medical doctor and deeply explored the effects of her psychosis on everyday life. An author’s note at the beginning informs the reader that the book has been put together using the author’s notebooks as a basis for describing the periods during which she was unwell, and I found it interesting that while the descriptions were quite harrowing and shocking, we were also dealing with a narrator who, by her own admission, was unreliable. I questioned, for instance, the fact that none of her colleagues (who were all medical doctors, you will recall) picked up on the obvious signs of her psychosis.

Shouty Doris interjects

What you mean is, it beggars belief that she could turn up to work wearing multiple layers of odd clothing, with seeping wounds from a self-inflicted hydrochloric acid burn, after nights spent awake and imbibing large amounts of alcohol and not one of her learned, medical doctor colleagues noticed anything was amiss. And her being in and out and in and out and in and out of hospital and missing work! Surely her boss would have figured out that something strange was going on!

That aside, the book really raised the complexity of mental illness and the services available to people who suffer from its many variations.

Shouty Doris interjects

How did her workmates not notice the smell? The unkempt hair? I mean, how could you not notice the seeping wounds?!! WHY WOULDN’T ANYONE HELP THIS WOMAN??

The author had quite a negative view of psychiatrists in general as well as the specific psychiatrists of whom she was a patient. This was a recurring theme of Richards’ personal narrative, despite the fact that during much of the book she was too unwell to comply with the psychiatrist’s recommendations.

Shouty Doris interjects

Why did she stop taking her medication? She was doing so well! WHY IS THIS WOMAN NOT CHAPERONED DAY AND NIGHT?! She obviously can’t take care of herself. It was just a revolving door – self-harm episode, hospitalisation, out the door with some medication, and start it all again. For Pete’s sake woman, put away the alcohol! Follow the Doctor’s orders! Wait, now she’s going to New York? And Israel?? On her own? WHOSE STUPID IDEA WAS THAT? THIS IS NOT GOING TO END WELL!

Overall, this book was an in-depth look at one woman’s experience with severe mental illness over a period of years and her journey through the public health system. Reading it has stirred up a lot of questions for me about the glaring gaps in provision of mental health services generally, and especially for those who don’t have the money to afford private health care. In essence, while it was a difficult read in places, Madness is an engaging addition to the literature on mental illness in an Australian context.

I’d recommend this one to anyone interested in individuals’ experiences with mental illness, particularly Bipolar, but if this is your first foray into memoirs about mental illness I’d probably start with something a little less “in your face”, lest you be overwhelmed with the enormity of the subject.

Shouty Doris interjects

Thank goodness it did end well. Or well enough. Although that should have been obvious, seeing as she wrote the book. I need a cup of tea and a good lie down after that debacle. It’s enough to give an old woman heart failure.

Non-Fiction Reading Challenge Progress: 4/10

Until next time,

Bruce (and Doris)

 

 

The Pause: A YA, GSQ Review…

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I’d like to extend a warm welcome to you and your psyche and I’m happy that you’re here today to join me and my psyche as we take a look at a book that is both timely and illuminating for the YA market. I speak of The Pause by John Larkin, an Australian story that hits upon the simultaneously expansive and reductive nature of time and thought in a hugely relevant way for young people who may be finding the everyday goings-on of life too much to bear. I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley.

From Goodreads:

Declan seems to have it all: a family that loves him, friends he’s known for years, a beautiful girlfriend he would go to the ends of the earth for. But there’s something in Declan’s past that just won’t go away, that pokes and scratches at his thoughts when he’s at his most vulnerable. Declan feels as if nothing will take away that pain that he has buried deep inside for so long. So he makes the only decision he thinks he has left: the decision to end it all. Or does he? As the train approaches and Declan teeters at the edge of the platform, two versions of his life are revealed. In one, Declan watches as his body is destroyed and the lives of those who loved him unravel. In the other, Declan pauses before he jumps. And this makes all the difference. One moment. One pause. One whole new life.

the pause

The Good

imageThis book is based upon an incredibly simple, yet vitally important concept: that when it comes to mental illness and decisions made when not in one’s right mind, a moment can make all the difference. Undeniably, this is something that young people, with their still-developing brains and lack of life experience, can find difficult to grasp and it is the key to overcoming the feelings of desperation that can lead to an individual making a tragic and irreversible decision. Larkin has done a great service here in addressing that important technique for staving off poor decision-making when under the influence of depression or anxiety – just wait a moment. Okay? Now wait for five minutes. Great. Now another five.   If we can extend those pauses out just enough, chances are the emotions will change, the pressure will pass and there is now a window of opportunity for help to be sought and given.

Apart from the general premise on which the book is based, Larkin has done a fantastic job of creating a main character that is, in a sense, an everyman, albeit a reasonably well-off and entitled everyman. Declan is a pretty ordinary teenager who is driven to what he does after the loss of what – in the moment – he believes is his true love. To an adult reader this might seem a bit over the top, but I think Larkin has pitched this just right for reaching a younger audience, for whom events such as this really do seem like the end of the world.

The Sad

imageI did find the tone of the writing to be a little didactic at times. After introducing the pivotal decision that Declan makes early in the narrative, the story splits into a hypothetical timeline in which Declan’s story is played out, with some interjections from the Declan who didn’t Pause (essentially, Declan the dead). These interjections are good reminders to the reader, but are of the “Isn’t Declan’s life going well? Oh wait, it’s not, he’s really dead” variety which seemed a little too crudely executed for my tastes.

While I did generally think Declan was a likeable and relatable character there were a few events in the book that made me dislike him, and thus reduced my sympathy for him considerably. Firstly, his mum is a bit of a self-righteous pill who spends pretty much the whole book being rude and dismissive to her husband, while encouraging her son to do the same. Then about halfway through the book , there is a scene in which Declan complains about the overseas holidays that his father makes them go on. It was at this point that I actually said out loud (to a few odd sideways glances) “Oh you don’t like going on a free annual overseas holiday? Allow me to call you a waaaambulance! Would you like some cheese with that (white) whine?”

Needless to say, it did shift my perspective on Declan away from “suffering teen who needs care and assistance” and toward “entitled North Shore wanker who needs a good kick up the arse”.

The Quirky

imageThere are two things that this book does that sets it apart from other books about teens getting over mental health issues. Firstly, it projects Declan’s hypothetical timestream way into the future. The imagined storyline doesn’t just end with Declan getting over the issues that caused his breakdown and (possible) suicide, but pushes things out even further to hypothetical-Declan in his 20s. I found this really original as it gives a sense of how issues from around the time of his mental breakdown affect his life as an adult.

The other unusual thing that this book does, compared with others of its ilk, is address the issues that the adults in Declan’s life are having that contribute in part to Declan’s breakdown and the way in which he recovers. This allowed for growth from a lot of the characters in the book, rather than just the main character, which is often the case with YA books generally.

All in all, I felt that this is an important read for those in the target age bracket. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, and found some of the events a bit contrived, I did appreciate the originality of the format and concept and I think Larkin has produced a very readable narrative that is going to be a hugely helpful contribution as a conversation starter about mental health and suicide for young people and those who work with them.

If you are a teen or new adult, I would recommend reading it and passing it on to your friends. If you are an adult, I would recommend reading it and passing it on to your young people.

Until next time,

Bruce

Tomes from the Olden Times: Grandad’s Gifts…

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image Welcome, young and old to Tomes of the Olden Times, the feature in which I discuss books that I particularly remember from times long past.  Today’s gem is an exquisite short story/long picture book from that genius of Australian short-storytelling for children, Mr Paul Jennings.  If you have never read anything by Paul Jennings, you are doing yourself a grave disservice.  Go and correct this at once. No, actually, wait until you’ve read this post, THEN go and correct this in a timely fashion. Today I wish to discuss Grandad’s Gifts, written by Jennings, hauntingly illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe and first published in picture book form in 1990.  That’s 25 years ago folks. Yep, it makes me feel old too. The book tells the short but spook-laden tale of Shane, a young lad who moves with his family to live in the house of his late grandfather.  While there, Shane opens a forbidden cupboard, uncovers a long-hidden secret and sets about righting a wrong in his family history.  Here’s the (rather spoiler-filled) blurb from Goodreads: This is a chilling picture book with a twist in the tail, as Paul slowly brings a fox back to life by feeding its fur with lemons from the tree above its grave. But it’s the lemons above Paul’s grandfather’s grave that give the fox its final gift, sight… grandads gifts When Grandad’s Gifts suddenly popped back into my consciousness many moons after first encountering it, I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten about it for so long.  I immediately tried to hunt it down but had a great deal of trouble finding it in print.  Then, one glorious day, as I was rifling through some second-hand library books I spotted it.  Not the cover that I remembered, but still, that title and that author and I knew I had found it.  And pretty darn pleased about my little score I was too. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what makes this story so mystical and memory-worthy, but I can assure you that it is one of those special books that you really should endeavour to get your hands on.  Trust me on this. When first I was introduced to this story, in a classroom setting, I remember being stunned by the …well, stunning…illustrations.  So realistic, so engaging, so erring on the side of the magical in the realm of magical realism.  Here’s one:  image And here’s another: imageAnd one more, for luck:

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Boo! That one got you in, didn’t it?!

I think the realism of the artwork really gave this story its spook-factor.  There is something haunting about these pictures that embeds itself in the memory and brings the story right off the pages.  They are the perfect accompaniment to Jennings’ particular brand of quirky strangeness.  Any young Australian worth their salt (and any Australian teacher worth theirs) would be familiar with the hilarious and weird short stories of Paul Jennings.  Some of these, notably his Round the Twist stories,  were later turned into a television series, whose theme song will no doubt still be stuck in the heads of some.  *Mentally sings: Have you ever…ever felt like this? When strange things happen, are you goin’ round the twist?*

Apart from being deliciously creepy though, the book is also remarkably touching, as we get carried along with Shane’s mission to free his furry, cupboard-strewn friend.  This is one of those stories that proves the power of story-telling – it’s one I did actually forget about for a period of time, but once I remembered it, the experience of first hearing it came back in vivid detail from the depths of decades past.

I would highly, highly recommend hunting this book down if you can and reading it with any kids in your vicinity aged around seven or older.

Until next time,

Bruce  

Surprised by Joy (and a feathered fowl): The Duck and The Darklings…

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Welcome literary wayfarers! I have something special for you today.  Once every so often, a picture book comes along that is as visually appealing as it is moving, as lyrical in prose as it is engaging in content.  The Duck and the Darklings is just such a book.  The book is the product of another successful and inspiring collaboration between Glenda Millard (who I have mentioned on the blog before, here) and Stephen Michael King, and as soon as I heard about it, I put it on my “must buy that soon” radar.  Thanks to the delightful cake-eating competition-purveyors at Allen & Unwin however, I was lucky enough to win a copy, sparking my admiration for the book and the post that you are now skimming reading with great care and attention.

the duck and the darklings

Peterboy and his grandfather live among the Darklings in a hole in the ground in the land of Dark, below the ruined world above.  Peterboy longs to bring some light to his grandfather’s life and in his search he finds Idaduck.  He brings the broken duck to his grandfather and together they set about healing the creature.  When Idaduck is ready to leave them, the Darklings shine the lights from their candle-hats to show her the way and in doing so, discover that Idaduck has brought them something they needed more than anything – hope in the power of healing.

The themes in this book are familiar to fans of Millard’s work – hope, caring for others and finding joy in tiny, ordinary moments – but she has certainly outdone herself this time in creating a story dependent on so much fantasy world-building in such a small package.  This book feels like an epic fantasy condensed onto a post-it note, with peaks and lulls, hope, sadness and inevitability perfectly paced across 32 pages.  The prose is exquisitely lyrical, with a natural rhythm that provides the dreamlike quality underpinning the story.  King’s illustrations provide the visual realisation of Millard’s words and his familiar style perfectly conveys the gloominess of the Darklings’ underground home and the curiousity and hopefulness of Peterboy.  Rather than saying too much more about it, I’ll give you some examples:

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He has also inspired Mad Martha to start crocheting a hat like Peterboy’s.  Maybe without the candle though, despite it’s undisputed usefulness.

If you can get your paws, claws or hands on a copy of this book, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.  For my money, I think it’s one of those rare treasures that will do more for the adults reading it than the mini-fleshlings – but I’m sure they’ll love it just as much.

Until next time,

Bruce

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