Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Mysterious and Intriguing” MG and YA Edition…(featuring a Top Book of 2015!)

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Well I hope nobody’s still saddle sore from Friday’s Round-Up because today I have three YA and MG titles that you are definitely going to want to hitch to your TBR post. I received all three from their respective publishers via Netgalley and was pleasantly surprised to find them to be thoroughly enjoyable, with a sense of the unexplained. In fact, I enjoyed one of them so much, it has made my list of TOP BOOKS OF 2015! On that exciting note, let’s ride on in!

First up, we have a YA title featuring multiple contributors and a quick, relatable read.

M is for Autism (The Students of Limpsfield Grange School and Vicky Martin)

Two Sentence Synopsis: M is for autism

M isn’t sure why she sees things differently from other people but it certainly makes things harder for her to fit in with her peers. With the possibility of a medical diagnosis looming, M wonders whether a label will help her blend in…or make her stick out even more.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is unlike any book you’ve read with a main character who displays characteristics on the Autistic Spectrum. For a start, the main character is female, and as you delve into M’s readable-in-one-sitting journey, it is highly likely that you will recognise many of M’s fears, experiences and characteristics as similar to those you might have personally experienced or displayed. With eye-dazzling illustrations dotted throughout giving a glimpse into M’s inner turmoil, this book is a highly polished piece of work that will appeal greatly to teenagers who feel like they don’t fit in, as much as it will to older readers looking for an original take on an “autism” novel. The experiences of M’s mother are also realistically portrayed and it was intriguing to see how M internalised her family’s reactions to her behaviour. I highly recommend this book to everyone: it won’t take you long to get through, but it will leave you with some things to ponder well after you’ve finished.

Brand it with:

Sisters doing it for themselves, square peg/round hole, parental freakouts

Next up, as promised on Friday, we have everyone’s favourite stinky monster: Bigfoot!

Sasquatch (Andrea Schicke Hirsch)

Two Sentence Synopsis:sasquatch

Since his parents’ divorce, Jake elected to live with his dad, which means moving to his late Uncle Horace’s cabin in the deep woods of a tiny town. Uncle Horace was known as the town crackpot because of his fascination with Sasquatch and his belief that one lived in the very woods surrounding Jake’s new home – but with malodorous wafts, strange calls in the night and even stranger happenings when he goes walking in the woods, Jake’s not so sure his uncle was crazy after all.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s rare to find a YA novel with a strong male protagonist who isn’t either bully or bullied, labelled as a nerd or a jock, and who possesses confidence and the ability to look after himself and manage his own emotions. Plus, it’s about Bigfoots (Bigfeet?). There was something very refreshing about this novel and I suspect it has something to do with the fact that it steered away from the overused YA tropes I’ve mentioned above and just stuck to good old-fashioned, realistic monster hunting. Of course, one can’t spend all one’s time hunting Sasquatch and there are plenty of non-monster related problems that Jake gets himself into with his new neighbours and friends and the book is better for it. The author has managed to blend the “real-life” issues of a young lad with a mythical overlay and realistic characters and the result is a quality read. Overall, this is a fun, engaging novel with a fantasy edge, some satisfying twists and authentic portrayals of teenagers left to their own devices with a mythical beast (possibly) on the loose.

Brand it with:

Who cut the cheese?, love lies bleeding, live and let live, revenge served hot

Finally, onto our middle-grade offering for today and one of my…..TOP BOOKS OF 2015!

Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods: Twenty Chilling Tales from the Wilderness (Hal Johnson and Tom Mead)

Two Sentence Synopsis: creatures of the lumberwoods 2

Reader, find in this tome the true-life stories of fantastical beasts that roam the North American landscape. From the Gumberoo to the Hodag, and the Snoligoster to the Timberdoodle (although this one only gets a passing mention), everyone’s favourite obscure mythical beasts are given their terrifying due in this not-to-be-missed instructional guide.

Muster up the motivation because:

The disarmingly hilarious turns of phrase, dry humour that creeps up and forces a chuckle and running joke about the French will have you giggling unexpectedly and furrowing your brow by turns in equal measure. This illustrated collection of tall tales is like Monty Python for nine-year-olds. The book is beautifully presented (although I did have MAJOR issues reading this on both Adobe Digital Editions and Bluefire Reader – perhaps due to the large file size) and deserves to be read in print. The individual stories are short enough to dip into before bedtime but long enough to leave a lasting imprint on the individual’s psyche. I’m certain the image of one hunter, returning to civilisation “brokenhearted, with only a timberdoodle in his sack” will be one I cherish for some time to come. Same goes for the killing technique of the deadly Snoligoster, the effect of which, according to the author, is “quite delightful to watch, but also tragic and disgusting”. I heartily recommend this new imagining of an old work to intrepid, confident young readers in about grades 4 to 7, and to adults with a sense of humour of around the same age.

Brand it with:

Tall tales, if you go down to the woods today, instructional guides

So there you have it. I will admit to a bit of cheekiness, hiding one of my TOP BOOKS OF 2015 within a Round-Up, but I like to keep you on your toes and see who’s really paying attention. I have gone on a bit in this Round-Up, but occasionally you find some real gems out there but can’t necessarily fit them in to the individual posting schedule, and these three warrant a bit of long-windedness. I hope you find something here to please.

Until next time,

Bruce

Read it if….:A Two-for-One Deal

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Today must be your lucky day – two reviews in the one post! You’re welcome.

Has anyone else noticed that books featuring a main character who exhibits behaviours characteristic of the Autism Spectrum are having a bit of a heyday at present?  I’ve recently read and enjoyed a number of these including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and The London Eye Mystery.  This past fortnight, however, I  picked up two books in this category without knowing it, and I now present to you a double Read-it-if…on the theme of fabulous diversity.

The first, Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X Stork (isn’t that a fantastic name?!), features 17 year old Marcelo facing the unsavoury prospect of having to work in the mailroom of his father’s law firm during his summer holiday.  The story chronicles the ups and downs of Marcelo’s introduction to the “real world” as he develops a friendship with Jasmine, boss of the mailroom, and makes some difficult decisions about how to act when faced with some unexpected and potentially volatile information.

marcelo in the real world

Read it if:

* you have ever actually lived, or have ever wanted to live, in a treehouse

* you suspect that some people use the term “the real world” instead of saying “things that you aren’t grown-up enough to know about yet”

*you’ve ever made a friend in an unlikely circumstance; or conversely, if you have ever trusted the wrong person

* you believe that you do not fit neatly under a label that has been applied to you, and that this is not a bad thing

This story flowed nicely and engaged me immediately – there is nothing spectacular that singles this book out as one to read above the many other titles out there, but it is certainly a solid story with sensitively drawn characters and believable scenarios.

The plot of the second book, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, came as an utter surprise to me because I was mistakenly under the impression (after a clearly brief reading of the blurb and a filtered glimpse at the picture on the cover) that this was to be a story about World War II.  Now although stories  set in World War II are particular favourites of mine, The Rosie Project had plenty of charm to alleviate my ever-so-slight disappointment at my own mistaken conjecturing.

Don Tillman is an associate professor of genetics at a Melbourne university who decides that in order to meet the perfect mate, he must resort to designing and distributing a questionnaire to root out any undesirable candidates and reliably lead him toward “The One”.  Enter Rosie, who Don mistakenly assumes is an eager candidate, and watch as the hijinks unfold.  The book follows the developing friendship between Don and Rosie, with chuckle-inducing results.

rosie project

Read it if:

*you have a very particular wish-list to which any aspiring love-match must conform

* you possess the ability to unintentionally amuse others by your actions or words

*you are a moderate-alcohol-consumer, non-smoker and eater of meat

*you’re looking for a nice light romantic comedy with a difference

I found this book both humorous and believeable, even though some of the situations, particularly with regard to Don’s ability to learn new skills, are beyond the bounds of reasonable expectation.  This is a good pick-up, put-down read for those days when you just want a brain break.

The interesting thing about these two books is that while they can be categorised as “Aspie” books, neither main character conforms to that particular label.  Both characters realise that they seem to be wired differently from the common herd, but Marcelo notes that his behaviours don’t fit the diagnosis, and Don is not aware that his behaviours fit the label (despite giving a memorable lecture on Asperger’s Syndrome in one scene of the book!).  In both books, the characters’ personality really drives the narrative, rather than the label of Asperger’s, which I thought worked very well.

Until next time,

Bruce