Exit, Pursued by Smugglers: The Spectacular Spencer Gray…

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If you are looking for a bit of adventure to spice up your life, delivered with a side order of cute furry marsupial then The Spectacular Spencer Gray by Deb Fitzpatrick is clearly what you have been missing in your life.  We received a copy from Fremantle Press for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Spencer Gray is just an ordinary kid, but he manages to get into some pretty extraordinary situations.

When Spencer stumbles on a sinister operation in the bush, his life goes into overdrive – midnight rescue missions, super-endangered animals, hair-raising adventures.

To survive, Spencer will need to pull off something spectacular.

It’s refreshing to come across a book which is fun but touches on serious subjects, is laconic but allows the reader to learn something (surreptitiously!) and is action-packed, but also feels creepily authentic.   It’s safe to say then, that I felt refreshed after having read of Spencer’s escapades.

Before we get started, let me point out that this is the second adventure of the titular Spencer Gray, the first of such adventures having been chronicled in The Amazing Spencer Gray which was published in 2013.  Also allow me to point out that I was not aware that this wasn’t Spencer’s first dangerous outing and it made not one jot of difference to my enjoyment of the book.  This tale can certainly be read as an exciting standalone novel with no need for prior knowledge of Spencer’s situation.

The book opens on Spencer’s unwitting discovery of a bizarre, homemade setup in the bush just outside his school oval containing a collection of native Australian animals.  Spencer makes the split second decision to bring one of the animals – that he later learns is a Potoroo (google it) – back to his home, because it looks on the brink of death.  When Spencer and his mates Charlie and Leon decide they should return the Potoroo to the bush, things start to go pear-shaped because it immediately becomes clear that someone…or multiple someones…are not happy that Spencer has discovered their criminal activities.

The pacing of the story is truly Australian, in that it takes its time to warm up and the boys are remarkably laid back about (a) finding a bunch of native animals in a slapdash shelter in an unlikely place and (b) keeping an endangered animal in box under a bed.  The second half of the book however, in which Spencer’s marsupial-saving activities come home to roost in the worst outcome possible, is all go, go, go and I whipped through these chapters like a Potoroo with its pants on fire.   Although the events of the second half of the book are, when viewed objectively from an adult’s point of view, pretty far-fetched, the suspense in the writing somehow made them feel decidedly authentic and I really felt for Spencer’s parents as they waited with mounting terror for news of their son’s whereabouts.

Overall, Fitzpatrick has done a great job with balancing the adventurous and more down-to-earth elements of the story, as well as providing information to the reader in a readily digestible form about one of Australia’s most endangered animals.  And in case you’re wondering, no, I had no idea what a Potoroo looked like before reading this book.  Or that it was endangered.  In fact, after reading the book, I visited Google to run a comparison on Potoroos and Quokkas and while typing in Potoroo vs… the option for Quokka immediately came up, so clearly I’m not the only one still learning here.

I would recommend The Spectacular Spencer Gray to young readers looking for a quick yet involving read featuring an unlikely hero and the adventure that awaits in the great outdoors.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Meandering Through Middle Grade: Life on a Bee-less Planet…

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It’s a question that’s been asked by everyone from your common-or-garden human to Doctor Who himself (tenth incarnation): Where are all the bees?  What is happening to our little black-and-gold buzzing pollination stations?  What will happen if the bees disappear for good?

All these questions and more are probed in the original and engaging mildly post-apocalyptic novel for middle grade readers, How to Bee by Bren MacDibble. I feel the need to point out before we go any further that the story contained within this book is far more down-to-earth and substantial than either its cover or title give it credit for.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Allen & Unwin:

A story about family, loyalty, kindness and bravery, set against an all-too-possible future where climate change has forever changed the way we live.

Sometimes bees get too big to be up in the branches, sometimes they fall and break their bones. This week both happened and Foreman said, ‘Tomorrow we’ll find two new bees.’

Peony lives with her sister and grandfather on a fruit farm outside the city. In a world where real bees are extinct, the quickest, bravest kids climb the fruit trees and pollinate the flowers by hand. All Peony really wants is to be a bee. Life on the farm is a scrabble, but there is enough to eat and a place to sleep, and there is love. Then Peony’s mother arrives to take her away from everything she has ever known, and all Peony’s grit and quick thinking might not be enough to keep her safe.

How To Bee is a beautiful and fierce novel for younger readers, and the voice of Peony will stay with you long after you read the last page.

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Although this book is set in a post-bee world, the setting is far enough after the bee-pocalypse (or the time when the bees went extinct) that the world, or at least Peony’s part of it, has found a workable solution to the problem.  Children with poles now climb fruit trees to pollinate them and life in the cities depends entirely on the good work of the farms where fresh food is grown.  Peony dreams of being a bee and completing the important, prestigious work but her dream is ripped away when her mother returns from her city job and demands that Peony return with her to earn cash.  Peony is bewildered by this, because on the farm, they have everything they need – money is anathema when there’s no shops to buy things from.  In the city however, money is everything and the gap between haves and have-nots is illustrated by the hordes of raggy people who beg in the streets, with no jobs, homes or hope.

Along with an original slang, this story has unmistakable undertones of a Dickensian novel, with an urban environment characterised by the dichotomy of the rich and poor, in direct contrast to the happily barefoot children of the countryside.  Sure, life is hard on Peony’s farm, but at least the people there are a strong community and understand the importance of their work to the necessities of life.  The story moves through phases, with the early chapters introducing the reader to the farm and its processes, as well as Peony’s home life.  The central chapters of the story, set in a big house in the city, show a different side to this alternative future, and demonstrate the hostility of the “real” world, in which violence, struggle and want colour the lives of the majority of “urbs” – city residents.

These central chapters give rise to an unexpected friendship between Peony and Esmeralda, the young girl for whose family Peony works.  Although this section provided variety and interest, as well as a chance for both levels of the social strata to see each others’ good points, it seemed a bit out of place with the beginnings of the story.  This is a moot point however, because the tale twists again toward the end and although Peony will encounter despair, hardship and grief before the end of the novel, an unexpected jolt of hope is injected from two directions in the final chapter.

Overall, this is a family drama, an environmental warning and a portrait of the kind of society that we are sliding towards held together by an engaging and determined narrator.  I’d recommend this for middle-grade aged readers who enjoy books set in alternate worlds, as well as to older readers looking for a middle grade read that sits outside the expected.

Until next time,

Bruce

Middle Grade Giveaway!

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Shake your maracas, wave your feather boas and stomp out the rhythm of your excitement because today I have a giveaway for you all!

One lucky winner will be able to select one of the four middle grade/early reader books below for their prize – all you have to do to enter is comment on this post and tell me which book you would like to win!

This giveaway is open internationally and will run from the moment this post goes live (NOW!) until midnight on March 16th, 2017 (Brisbane time).  The winning comment will be chosen by random number generator and the winner will be contacted by email and have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is chosen.  We won’t be responsible for prizes lost or damaged in transit.

Now check out the books that you can choose from!

 

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The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis & Freya Hartas.  Published by Bloomsbury Australia, March 2017.  RRP: $14.99

*We received this giveaway copy of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart from Bloomsbury Australia!*

From Goodreads:

Aventurine is the fiercest, bravest dragon there is. And she’s ready to prove it to her family by leaving the safety of their mountain cave and capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. But when the human she finds tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, Aventurine is transformed into a puny human girl with tiny blunt teeth, no fire, and not one single claw.

But she’s still the fiercest creature in the mountains — and now she’s found her true passion: chocolate! All she has to do is get herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she’ll be conquering new territory in no time…won’t she?

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The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler by Lisa Shanahan.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 25th January 2017.  RRP: $14.99

*We received this giveaway copy of The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler from Allen & Unwin*

From Goodreads:

It struck Henry that perhaps he was waiting for the exact right moment to be daring and brave. The exact right moment where he felt no worry at all, not one tiny flicker. But what if that moment never came?

Henry Hoobler is a reluctant adventurer worried about his summer holiday: camping at the beach, bugs, spiders, snakes, stingers, blue ringed octopi and sharks. Worst of all, his family and friends are pushing him to ride his new silver bike without training wheels. But when Henry meets Cassie, he discovers that courage is there to be found when you have a friend who is straight up and true.

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Marge and the Pirate Baby by Isla Fisher.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 25th January 2017.  RRP: $14.99

*We received this giveaway copy of Marge and the Pirate Baby from Allen & Unwin*

From Goodreads:

The second fun family story in the MARGE series by actor & comedian Isla Fisher, illustrated with wit and warmth by Eglantine Ceulemans.

Marge is back and exploring the neighbourhood with the kids! With some help from Jemima and Jake, can she stay in charge and keep ‘pirate’ baby Zara under control? And can the children make sure Marge behaves at Uncle Desmond and Annie’s wedding?

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Henrietta and the Perfect Night by Martine Murray.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 22nd February 2017.  RRP: $16.99

*We received this giveaway copy of Henrietta and the Perfect Night from Allen & Unwin*

From Allen & Unwin:

Henrietta, the great go-getter, is going to be a big sister, but she’ll have to wait half way to Christmas before the baby is ready. Five charming and quirky stories from the author of the CBCA shotlisted book Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars.

Hello everybody, it’s me. Henrietta the Great Go-Getter, and I’m having a big think. Right now I’m thinking I’d like a baby sister, so I can dress her up in different sorts of hats. But Mum says we’ll have to wait and see. I’m terrible at waiting.

Meanwhile, I’m an explorer of life, and that includes trees, bugs, animals and all mysteries. I’m going to school for the very first time, which means I might have to go as a spy so that I can have a secret peep inside…

When Henrietta sees Olive Higgie crying in the classroom, she goes on a rescue mission and finds that you only need one friend in a room full of strangers to feel perfectly happy.

Henrietta’s stories are full of funny thoughts and discoveries, and maybe the best are the ones that take a long time to come.

So take your pick!  Tell me in a comment below which book you would like to win to be entered into the giveaway.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

YAhoo! It’s a #LoveOzYA Review: Frogkisser!

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Frogkisser! 

Who could go past a title with such an alluring and obvious exclamation mark in the title?

Not us, that’s for sure.

Especially when it is penned by Australian YA and fantasy powerhouse Garth Nix.  We received a copy of Frogkisser! from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The Last Thing She Needs Is a Prince.

The First Thing She Needs Is Some Magic.

Poor Princess Anya. Forced to live with her evil stepmother’s new husband, her evil stepstepfather. Plagued with an unfortunate ability to break curses with a magic-assisted kiss. And forced to go on the run when her stepstepfather decides to make the kingdom entirely his own.

Aided by a loyal talking dog, a boy thief trapped in the body of a newt, and some extraordinarily mischievous wizards, Anya sets off on a Quest that, if she plays it right, will ultimately free her land-and teach her a thing or two about the use of power, the effectiveness of a well-placed pucker, and the finding of friends in places both high and low.

With Frogkisser!, acclaimed bestselling author Garth Nix has conjured a fantastical tale for all ages, full of laughs and danger, surprises and delights, and an immense population of frogs. It’s 50% fairy tale, 50% fantasy, and 100% pure enjoyment from start to finish.

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Although Nix’s work is often touted as YA, it fits just as neatly into the plain old fantasy category, to be enjoyed by readers of all ages.  Frogkisser! is no different in this regard, for while it features a reasonably young protagonist, it’s packed full of adult characters (temporarily transformed into animals and otherwise) and is reminiscent of the work of Terry Pratchet and Piers Anthony (although much less punny and of much higher quality than the latter).

Anya is the second-eldest princess in her castle which is ruled over by her stepmother and stepstepfather after the death of both her parents…at different times…which explains why she has two stepparents.  Her older sister Morven is due to inherit the kingdom of Trallonia and become ruler when she comes of age, but is reasonably vacuous and distracted by handsome princes, and their stepstepfather, the evil Duke, is using his sorcery to keep her that way so that he can take over the kingdom.  Anya, being another roadblock for the megalomaniacal Duke, leaves on a quest to transform one of Morven’s suitors, Prince Denholm, back from the frog form into which he has been spelled, and thus avoids (by a slim margin) being murdered in her bed.

The story features all the types of characters you’d expect from a comedy-fantasy, with talking royal dogs (my favourites), a thief-turned-into-a-newt, an otter turned into a human-otter-thing, good wizards, retired wizards, dwarves, giants, thieves and witches, among others.  The tone is light throughout, even during the suspenseful parts, and doused with dry humour (if it’s possible to be doused with dryness, that is).  The plot is quite episodic as these stories often are, with Anya having to meet and overcome a variety of quirky stumbling blocks along her road toward the ingredients for frog-transforming lip balm.

The best thing about this book is that Anya, initially, is completely out for number one – in a self-focused, rather than self-centred way – and along the way she must ponder whether or not it is worth it for her to get involved in the bigger issues facing the kingdoms and their citizens.  Issues about justice in governance, the rules of succession and the obligations of richer people to poorer people, for instance. Underlying the entertainment factors of fantasy and humour in the story is a subtle exploration of privilege, and the responsibilities (if any) that the more privileged in society have toward those without power and without the means to gain agency in their own lives.  Nix has been a bit clever here, popping such a topical issue neatly into a fun and fantastic jaunt through another world.

Tropes about princesses are both reinforced and turned on their head in the story, with Anya’s and Morven’s paths diverging, but in ways that make sense for the respective characters.  I actually understood Morven’s vibe to an extent, because we have our own Prince Maggers who turns up on our back deck most days to regale us with delightful tunes.

I enjoyed reading this story because of the familiarity of the humor and fantasy elements and the original, yet slightly expected, characters.  I mean, you can’t really have a fantasy quest without at least one animal transformed into a human or vice versa, can you? Having said that, Gerald the Herald (all of them) gave me a good chuckle every time he/she/they appeared. Frogkisser! is certainly a change of pace from Nix’s Abhorsen series but at the same time another worthy addition to Australian fantasy and YA writing.

I will be submitting this one for the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017.  You can check out my progress toward my reading challenges herehere!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

An Aussie Classic Revisited: Stories from Stella Street…

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Stories from Stella Street by Elizabeth Honey. Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November 2016. RRP: $19.99

A long, hot Australian summer holiday needs a long, funny bout of escapist kidlit and to that end, I have for you not one, but three Aussie classic kids’ stories.  We received this bright and breezy (and big enough to use as a door stop!) 21st anniversary edition of Elizabeth Honey’s Stella Street stories.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s te blurb from their website:

Elizabeth Honey’s immensely popular 45 + 47 Stella Street and everything that happened turns 21! This special anniversary edition includes three exciting adventures in one big book: 45 + 47 Stella Street, Fiddle-back and The Ballad of Cauldron Bay.

CELEBRATING 21 YEARS OF STELLA STREET!

Meet Henni, the tallest girl in school, and her best friend Zev, with amazing electric hair, and Briquette, little Frank’s dog … and everyone else in Stella Street! Read Henni’s original version of what her gang did when the Phonies moved into their street and started to spoil everything! It’s fast and funny and you never know what’s going to happen next. Henni also tells the story of life-changing events when the Stella Street gang all went bush and camped by a wild river, and then how their perfect old-beach-house holiday in Cauldron Bay nearly ended in disaster.

Three hair-raising adventures in one chunky book!

Elizabeth Honey writes with the invigorating energy of a salty wind off the sea that wakes you up and makes you see the world afresh. Warm-hearted, funny, touching and wise, the Stella Street stories are about growing up and living life to the full.

Now, I can’t be sure whether or not I actually read these stories as a youngster – I’ve checked the dates and I would have been a little outside the target audience, but nonetheless, I did feel a tickle of familiarity as I meandered through the first book in this collection: 45 + 47 Stella Street and Everything That Happened.  This familiarity could be because I (a) did actually read this as a youngster but have forgotten or (b) it is so typical of its genre and target age for Australian books of the period that I feel like I know it even though I haven’t read it.
The first book in the collection was a delight to read.  Hanni has an appropriately conversational style for a young girl of the early nineties, bashing around the neighbourhood with her mates and prevailing upon God to deal out justice to the Phonies next door.  In the end of course, it’s Hanni and her gang – Zav, Frank and Danielle – who have to bring about justice against a pair of the worst kind of neighbours: rich, pompous and ready to complain at the drop of a hat.
One of the things I enjoyed about reading this is the lack of technology in the lives of the characters, both child and adult.  The Phonies are involved in a bit of a shady practice (I shan’t spoil it for you!) that nowadays would certainly require access to multiple devices, yet in this delightfully innocent tome the skulduggery is all paper-based.  Similarly, Hanni is writing a book – with a pencil and paper to begin with, and then a typewriter!  I wonder whether contemporary readers of what is now historical fiction would notice this in the text and what they might make of it.
The pace of the story is laconic, as indeed most Aussie stories should be, punctuated with flurries of activity.  Stella Street itself is so delightfully rendered by the author that it is the kind of street anyone would give their eye-teeth to live in.  Filled with friendly neighbours (barring the Phonies, of course) and kids that band together to make their own fun, it’s the kind of place that forms the dream of a perfect childhood.
I only got through the first book in the collection before this review.  I do intend to read the others – Fiddleback and The Ballad of Cauldron Bay – if only because Hanni is such an engaging voice.  If you enjoy a good Aussie yarn or would love to introduce your mini-fleshlings to the kind of life kids might have had before the internet was in every pocket, Stories from Stella Street would be a fantastic place to start.
Until next time,
Bruce

Halloween’s Over, You Say? Then it Must Be Time for a Festive Christmas Double-Dip!

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It’s time to break out the fruit mince pies and sugar-crusted almonds and rustle up that Christmas feeling, for today’s double dip is all about everyone’s favourite most stressful time of year.  Luckily, today’s books for mini-fleshlings are not stressful in the least and should actually contribute to the heightening of joy and happiness in your dwelling.  Let’s crack on then, with an Aussie Christmas picture book, Christmas at Home by Claire Saxby and Janine Dawson, which we cheerfully received from Five Mile Press for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Let’s decorate your branches…

The tree is decorated, the presents are wrapped, and the neighbourhood Christmas lights blaze against a warm December sky.

It’s Christmas time at home — the very best time of the year.

An Australian Christmas tale.

Dip into it for…christmas-at-home

…a delightful romp through the lead up to Christmas and Christmas Day itself, that pulls no punches as to how festivities really unfold in a land in which the only snow to be seen is of the type that is sprayed out of cans to fancy up one’s window display.  The text is based on the classic carol, O Christmas Tree, and each page spread focuses on a typical Christmas activity – wrapping presents, visiting neighbourhood light displays, cooking on the barbie, and general family shenanigans.  The illustrations are absolutely fantastic here and I particularly love the way that aspects of contemporary life, such as two lads discussing something on the iPad with grandma, a lady taking a selfie at a light display and dad trying to fly his new remote control helicopter are all present, but peripheral to the main events.  The best bit about this book for me however was the fact that the illustrator has obviously paid close attention to inclusion and representation in creating the characters.  Although the protagonist family are fair, white (and slightly sweaty!) Australians, every scene that depicts other people includes characters who possess a range of skin tones.  Just at a quick glance it is possible to spot an Indian couple, a number of Asian families, a Maori family and a family that, judging by their outfits, may be from West Africa.  There’s even an Inuit family friend who for some reason has chosen to wear traditional cold-weather clothing for reasons that aren’t explained.  Representation aside, there’s plenty going on in each illustrative spread for keen eyed mini-fleshlings to spot.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a “traditional” Christmas story, for this one is a celebration of modern family life.  Other than that, if you aren’t a fan of changing the words to well-known Christmas carols, then this might not be for you.

Overall Dip Factor

This is a story that seems simple at first glance, but has more layers to uncover every time you look through it.  The illustrations, obviously, have much to do with this.  The most memorable page for me is one that notes that on Christmas day, “every place is bursting”.  The pages feature a number of different social groupings, mostly showing families, but also with a few touching asides.  I will admit to getting a little stab in the heart as I noted one of the pictures shows an old lady dressed in jaunty Christmas bonbon hat, putting food out on Christmas themed paper plates for about half a dozen cats.  While the lady herself looks perfectly happy (and there’s no indication that she hasn’t just popped out from family festivities for a moment), I felt like this was a little reminder that others may not be celebrating with a large, jolly social group.  Whatever the case, as well as providing a cheerful Christmas read-aloud for the mini-fleshlings, there are also other aspects of the book that will no doubt start conversations about diversity and how others do things.

Recommended. Especially for those in a cold climate, who no doubt won’t be thinking of us southerners at all as we sweat it out over our Christmassy summer.

Next up we have a fun little boredom-buster for primary school aged kids and beyond.  It’s My Lovely Christmas Book and we received a copy from Bloomsbury Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Bloomsbury:

Have a crafty Christmas this year: cut and glue, make beautiful pages, pockets, frames and other charming creations. Use your creativity to make lists, make notes, write poems, short stories, diary entries and add other things to make it yours. You can draw and colour, write and doodle. This is your book, made by you and for you.

Dip into it for…  my-lovely-christmas-book

…a sweet, creativity-inducing tome that really is as lovely as it claims to be.  The perfect gift for crafty pre-teens (or for yourself, if you rejoice in the anticipation of the days before December 25th), My Lovely Christmas Book is part diary, part photo and memory album, part activity book and part craft kit.  Apart from diary pages themed around each of the twelve days of Christmas, the book is structured so that the reader can flick through and pick the activities that take their fancy – and what a selection of activities there are!  On a quick flick from front to back I spotted mazes, cut-out-and-stick activities to make decorations, gift tags to cut out and use for gift giving, thank-you note templates, places to stick photos, doodling pages and search and find pages.  On a more studied examination, other features include beautiful papers that can be used to wrap small gifts, festive colouring pages, pages that can be cut and folded to make a pocket inside the book for holding special things, little journalling prompts, and a space to plan (or record!) a Christmas menu.  Honestly, it’s so chock-full of interesting things to list, make and do that any parent, upon hearing their offspring whine “I’m bored!” during the Christmas holiday period, could easily just growl, “Go to the book!” and everyone’s problems would be solved.

Don’t dip if…

…you are the kind of person who just cannot bear to write or draw in a book, let alone take to a book with a pair of scissors.  The only downfall I can see with this tome is that it is so aesthetically pleasing, that some readers may not want to spoil that beauty by actually using it as intended.

Overall Dip Factor

I can see this book being a fantastic companion for a young one who loves to create and record, and as a finished product, something that will be kept for years to come – who doesn’t love looking back on their own (often hilarious) jottings from childhood?  I would certainly recommend this as a book to accompany Christmas time travels, to keep that sense of Christmas close even though one is away from home.  Being one of the aforementioned readers who is often unable to deface beautiful books, even if that is their sole purpose, I am in two minds about whether to have a crack at some of the activities myself or leave this one in its pristine state.  You, however, should search this one out immediately – even the grouchiest Grinch will feel a flutter of Christmas cheer on flicking through these lovely pages.

There now.  Aren’t you feeling more festive already?  Well that’s great, because apparently there are only seven and a bit weeks til Christmas.  You’re welcome.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Win an MG or YA title!” Edition (with an Aus only giveaway!)

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Well, it looks like this week shall henceforth be known as “Bruce’s Mega Awesome Week of Giving Stuff Away” because in addition to my participation in the Stuck in a Good Book Hop (international), I’ve got a giveaway for Australian residents today, another giveaway for Australian residents on tomorrow (with a prize for adult readers this time), and I’m participating in a completely new international Hop on Friday, for internationals who wish to win stuff.

Whew!

Before I launch into our Round-Up, let me just say that if you are an Australian resident, I am giving you the opportunity to WIN one of the books I am reviewing today – huzzah!  

To enter, just comment on this post with the title of the book you would like to win.  

The winning comment will be chosen by a random number generator at the end of the giveaway.  The giveaway will run from now (go!) until midnight on Sunday the 16th of October, 2016, Brisbane time.  We’re NOT on daylight savings, by the way.  

Good luck!

Now, on to the books!

Swarm: Zeroes #2 (Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan & Deborah Biancotti)

*We received a copy of Swarm from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Swarm by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th September, 2016.  RRP: $19.99

Swarm by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti. Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th September, 2016. RRP: $19.99

The Zeroes are trying to make a safe space in which to explore their new-found powers, but their world is shattered by the appearance of two newcomers who seem to have no regard for ordinary people. Not only that, but they look like they’re bringing danger in their wake.

Muster up the motivation because…

…given the hype that surrounded Zeroes, the first book in this series, it stands to reason that fans would want to be getting their grabby hands on Swarm.  I had heard of this series, and in particular, the interesting three-author aspect of it, but had not read Zeroes when Swarm landed on my doorstep.  For the uninitiated, the book follows the fates of a small band of teenagers who have developed a range of what could be termed superpowers.  These range from seeing through other peoples’ eyes, to deflecting the attention of others away from oneself, to the ability to destroy electronic equipment with the power of the mind.  Interestingly though, it appears that these powers only seem to manifest in people within a certain age range, and usually have some connection to crowds and the energy generated by crowds.  As I said, I haven’t read the first in the series, but the authors have gone to great lengths to inform new readers of what’s what in the first few chapters.  The book flicks back and forth between the points of view of all the Zeroes – about six in all, who all have code names as well as regular names.  I found this to be a handy way to quickly be introduced to each character and their power, as well as to get a handle on some of the happenings of book one.  After the opening round of chapters however, the constant switching between perspectives really slowed the pace.  I grew a little bored with hearing about various situations from each person’s point of view and a few plot points get rehashed over and over as certain characters have to explain to other characters things that we, as readers, already know, because we just experienced it through the point of view of the character it happened to.  I ended up DNFing Swarm at Chapter 23, or 135 pages of the total 388, not because it was a sub-par read, but because I felt I had missed out on some of the action and excitement and character connection that may have been generated in the first book.  I would recommend starting at the beginning (which is what I plan to now do) if you think this series sounds like your cup of superpowered tea.

Brand it with:

Teen super-angst; secret societies; crowd  control

Artie and the Grime Wave (Richard Roxburgh)

*We received a copy of Artie and the Grime Wave from Allen & Unwin for review*

Ten Second Synopsis:  

Artie and the Grime Wave by Richard Roxburgh.  Published by Allen & Unwin, Octboer 2016.  RRP: $16.99

Artie and the Grime Wave by Richard Roxburgh. Published by Allen & Unwin, Octboer 2016. RRP: $16.99

Since his dad died and his mum became catatonic from grief, Artie has navigated life under the care of his shouty big sister and with the help of his best mate Bumshoe. When the boys stumble across a potential (no, probable…okay, definite) stash of stolen goods, they must work to unravel an organised crime racket that (probably) goes all the way to the top.

Muster up the motivation because…

…apart from the slightly disturbing illustrations that sort of creeped me out, Artie and the Grime Wave is a fun and bizarre adventure for primary school kids.  Artie is an unassuming young lad with an over-sized best friend who happens to bear the nickname Bumshoe, and for those reasons alone, attracts the unwanted attention of local bullies.  On the plus side though, Artie is also surrounded by a collection of family and friends to support him.  There’s his mum (stricken with grief), his sister (Shouty McShoutface), Aunty-boy (the crazy, lolly-giving lady down the street) and the lovely Ukrainian family next door who may have hidden talents (the Unpronounceable-enkos).  So you see, despite being picked on by ruffians, Artie has plenty of oddity to keep him busy and distracted.  When Artie and Bumshoe accidentally stumble upon some stolen goods, Artie’s life takes a turn for the adventurous as he and his strange collection of family, friends and neighbours fall into a dastardly hotbed of organised crime.  The humour here is a familiar Australian blend of dry and silly and characters alone make the story funny enough to keep youngsters entertained.  The book is illustrated here and there throughout (with the aforementioned slightly creepy and unnecessarily toothy pictures) and also employs some different fonts to mix things up a bit.  All in all, this story can probably best be compared to the style of David Walliams, except with a bit more Aussie grittiness.  I would definitely recommend this one to young readers who prefer their reading to feature a bit of larrikinism, a bit of stealth and silliness and a bit of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventure.

Brand it with:

Where have all the flowers pets and whitegoods gone?; suburban skulduggery; everybody needs good neighbours

The Wolf Wilder (Katherine Rundell)

*We received a copy of The Wolf Wilder from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Ten Second Synopsis:  wolf-wilder

Feo and her mother are wolf wilders; wolves kept by the Russian aristocracy as pets are brought to Feo and her mother when they are no longer welcome amongst polite society, and the women retrain the wolves to live as wild animals.  When the women are warned by Russian soldiers that they will be arrested if they are seen with any more wolves, Feo’s life is turned upside down.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a beautifully presented book with an engaging concept for lovers of animal stories and historical fiction.  I have to say up front that I made the decision to stop reading this one quite early on, after about four chapters, because the story looked like it was heading towards war and soldiers breaking down doors and young children (Feo in particular) fleeing for their lives, and I didn’t feel like I was in the mindset to take that in, even in a children’s book.  I am offering it for giveaway though because the book is absolutely gorgeous and I know some of you would love the opportunity to immerse yourself in this story.  The black and white illustrations are atmospheric and the story (or what I read of it) has a definite fable-like tenor, but also a strong feel of realism and authentic historical flavour.  I’d recommend The Wolf Wilder to readers young and old who like realistic adventure, historical fiction, animal stories and more than a hint of magic.

Brand it with:

An icy reception; howling good reads; animal adventure

Alright Aussies!

Don’t forget to comment on this post with the title of the book that most takes your fancy to be in with a chance to win it!  Good luck 🙂

Until next time,

Bruce