Bloomsbury Middle Grade Double-Dip: Dogs, Doctors and Doings for the School Holidays…

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Seeing it’s the school holidays here in sunny (always, always sunny) Queensland, you should probably let your hair down and grab a tantalising treat to accompany your perusal of today’s double dip.  Both of today’s titles have been provided to us from Bloomsbury Australia for review.

First up, here’s book five in the Marsh Road Mysteries series by Elen Caldecott, Dogs and Doctors, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The final title in the brilliant Marsh Road Mysteries adventure series by hugely popular children’s author Elen Caldecott. For fans of the Laura Marlin Mysteries by Lauren St John.

Meet Piotr, Minnie, Andrew, Flora and Sylvie – the Marsh Road Mystery solvers.

Sylvie Hampshire is in hospital. She knows she’s responsible enough to take control of her diabetes medication, but now she has to prove it on the hospital ward. She’s only been there a couple of hours when Barry, a therapy dog, goes missing in suspicious circumstances. It’s time to bring in the gang! With their detective senses on high alert, the five friends set out to find Barry, but the stakes soon become much higher than they thought. Have they finally met their match? Not if Sylvie Hampshire has anything to do with it!

Dip into it for…  dogs and doctors

…a fun and funny mystery featuring dogs, doctors, a mysterious entity known as The Whiter and five good mates untangling the mystery of a stolen therapy dog.  Honestly, who’d steal a therapy dog? Well, that’s what Sylvie and her friends have to work out!  I hadn’t read the first four books in this series but I had no trouble at all getting into this one.  The relationships between the characters are explained neatly as they arise and the author doesn’t waste time lumping backstory into the action to slow things down.  The hospital setting makes this mystery stand out from the pack because it’s different and has its own set of tricks and traps to foil well-meaning child detectives as they go about their detective business.  The main characters all have their own strengths and character flaws that affect the investigation in various ways and the book even has some data sheets at the end showing each of the five kids’ stats for those who may not be familiar with them.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of meddling kids!  The only thing that annoyed me slightly about this was Sylvie’s initial attitude toward having to stay in the hospital for two nights for monitoring…but that’s just the grown up in me being sensible and boring.  Her reactions are perfectly age-appropriate and understandable if you’re a kid.

Overall Dip Factor

While not the most riveting mystery there has ever been, Dogs and Doctors is a fun light read with two mysteries left out for the kids to solve.  The ending is action packed enough to be a good payoff for the preceding detective work and Sylvie, as the main character, learns a thing or two along the way about being responsible and allowing others to come to the fore when needed.  There was nothing in particular in the story that indicated to me that this was a “final” book of the series, which may leave long time readers of the series unfulfilled, but as a standalone read this ticked all the boxes for kids meddling in dangerous situations and coming out on top.

Next up we have Andy Seed’s The Anti-Boredom Book of Brilliant Outdoor Things to Do, illustrated by Scott Garrett and just in time to combat the holiday chorus of “Muuuuuumm! I’m boooooooored!”  Here’s the blurb from Bloomsbury:

Say goodbye to boredom with this fantastic outdoor boredom buster book! From the hilarious Andy Seed, Winner of the Blue Peter Book Award 2015 for Best Books with Facts comes the fantastically busy Anti-boredom Book of Brilliant Outdoor Things to do.

The outdoors are boring right? Wrong! Not when you’ve got Andy Seed’s Anti-boredom Book of Brilliant Outdoor Things to do! Suitable for all seasons, find out how to set bug traps, create a rainbow, construct an amazing summer slide and much, much more!

But what about those rainy summer days we hear you cry? Not a problem! This book also includes awesome indoor activities about the outdoors for rainy days. Design your own mini parachute, create the worlds most amazing frisbee, or create a bird feeder to keep your feathered friends well fed!

A brilliant book bursting with amazing outdoor activities that will have you running for the door! Packed full of hilarious illustrations from the wonderful Scott Garrett, this book will keep you entertained for hours on end!

Dip into it for…  outdoor things to do

…a comprehensive collection of ideas to keep the kids busy in the great outdoors.  The book has ideas for all sorts of places, from the city to the beach, to the countryside to plain old indoors, so even if you’re headed off on holiday somewhere, it would be a handy tome to bring along.  The book is divided into the sections mentioned above, and lists a selection of activities for each environment as well as the things you’ll need to complete them and tips or instructions for how to get the best out of whatever the activity is.  As this is the book of outdoor things to do, activities range from kayaking around a lake to ball games to messy things to make and build.  For those who love their devices, there are also some photo challenges to do as well as maps to look up if your mini-fleshlings can’t go a day without looking at some sort of screen.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t immediately want to be cajoled into hiking up the nearest hill or building a canoe out of twigs and shoelaces, I suppose.  While many of the activities listed here will definitely keep the kids busy, a lot of them do require certain materials that may have the kids constantly asking, “Mum, where’s the sticky tape? Where can I find coconuts? Why don’t we have a limbo stick?” and so forth for the next two weeks.

Overall Dip Factor

There’s definitely something for everyone in these pages and I particularly like that the end of the book has a list of “challenge” activities that require a bit more planning and, more often than not, the involvement of an adult or at least a small group of conspirators.  Overall, I think this book is a great inspiration for those looking to develop more “unplugged” time as a family.

So there you are – an involving mystery and a bunch of outdoorsy things to do.  You can thank me later for making sure your school holidays are busy and booked up.

Until next time,

Bruce

Early Chapter Book Double Dip Review: Cat Capers and Doggy Derring-Do…

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Feet up, treats out and let’s dip into two new release early chapter books!

First up we have Pug, whose first adventure involved being all at sea and who now makes a reappearance in Cowboy Pug by Laura James and illustrated by Eglantine Cuelemans.  We received a copy of this one from Bloomsbury for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Meet the brilliant, the wonderful, the courageous …Cowboy Pug! The second book in a joyful new illustrated series for fans of Claude and Squishy McFluff. Pug and his faithful companion, Lady Miranda, are going to be cowboys for the day – and first of all they’re going horsetrading! But with their noble steed Horsey safely acquired, it’s not long before they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Can Pug the reluctant hero overcome his fears and save the day once more?

Dip into it for…cowboy pug

…a beautifully illustrated quick read that bounces from one unexpected disaster to the next.  Pug manages to come out on top at every turn however, by accident or design, and by the end of the story we’ve seen police chasing bandits, trophies being awarded and one horse that slowly decides that being friends with Pug and Lady Miranda means one is in for a wild ride.  This story starts a little abruptly if you aren’t familiar with the escapades of the first book, with no particular information given to explain the backstory of Lady Miranda, Pug and the Running Footmen.  By the second chapter though, this shouldn’t be a problem as young readers will be engrossed in Lady Miranda’s search for a horsey friend.

Don’t dip if…

…you like your stories to be complex and involved.  This is only a quick read, perfect for newly confident readers looking to move from picture books and basic readers to a longer, yet still accessible, chapter book format.  For that reason, the action moves along apace, without any filler in which to get bogged down.

Overall Dip Factor

This is a charming follow-up to the first Adventures of Pug story and I think I enjoyed it better than the first.  I seem to remember that Lady Miranda annoyed me a bit in the first book, whereas she was perfectly delightful in this installment, even making a new friend (of the non-horsey variety).  The illustrations on every page and the large font make the book totally accessible to younger readers (and those like me who hate tiny print).    Whether you’ve read the first book in the series or not, this would be a canny choice for young readers who love animal stories, lots of colour and imagery, and slapstick laughs aplenty. For those already bitten by the Pug bug, the next adventure is coming out later this year.

If you aren’t a dog person, fear not, because next up we have The Adventures of Miss Petitfour by Anne Michaels and illustrated by Emma Block, which features all the cats you could ever wish for.  We received our copy from Bloomsbury Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The magical adventures of an eccentric Mary Poppins-esque heroine and her flying feline charges, sure to charm readers big and small. The first book for children by an internationally acclaimed novelist and poet.

Miss Petitfour enjoys having adventures that are “just the right size – fitting into a single, magical day.” She is an expert at baking and eating fancy iced cakes, and her favorite mode of travel is par avion. On windy days, she takes her sixteen cats out for an airing: Minky, Misty, Taffy, Purrsia, Pirate, Mustard, Moutarde, Hemdela, Earring, Grigorovitch, Clasby, Captain Captain, Captain Catkin, Captain Cothespin, Your Shyness and Sizzles. With the aid of her favorite tea party tablecloth as a makeshift balloon, Miss Petitfour and her charges fly over her village, having many little adventures along the way. Join Miss Petitfour and her equally eccentric felines on five magical outings — a search for marmalade, to a spring jumble sale, on a quest for “birthday cheddar”, the retrieval of a lost rare stamp and as they compete in the village’s annual Festooning Festival. A whimsical, beautifully illustrated collection of tales that celebrates language, storytelling and small pleasures, especially the edible kind!

the adventures of miss petitfour

Dip into it for…

…whimsical antics, alluring pastel-hued illustrations and a veritable clowder of cats.  Miss Petitfour lives with a total of sixteen felines, all with their own personalities, in what feels for all the world like a mashup between Mary Poppins and Neko Atsume.  The book features a short introduction at the start so the reader can familiarise themselves with both Miss Petitfour and the aforementioned cats, and is then broken up into five short stories, all which feature food, flying and feline fancifulness.

Don’t dip if…

…you prefer substance over style.  While the book is beautifully presented, I found the stories somewhat lacking in intrigue and they didn’t particularly hold my interest for long.  The author is quite fond of digressions and while a few of these are always helpful and fun, it does not bode well when the digressions generate more interest than the actual story.

Overall Dip Factor

The gorgeous illustrations throughout the book, the coloured fonts and the fact that the stories feature sixteen cats that travel by tablecloth parachute at the mercy of the winds will surely be enough to draw some readers under Miss Petitfour’s spell of whimsy.  It wasn’t quite enough for me, but I’m still impressed by the production quality of the book nonetheless.  This is one you’ll want to buy in print, for sure, rather than e-format.  If you have younger readers of your acquaintance who are fans of Kate Knapp’s Ruby Red Shoes, they will probably find Miss Petitfour and her cats equally delightful.

So which is it to be? Cats or dogs? Whimsy or adventure?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Shelfies: DNFs with Potential…

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A while ago I decided to take on a DNF (Did not finish) default policy for all books that came across my path, inspired by this post by Anya at On Starships and Dragonwings blog.  As a result, I no longer push myself to finish books when my interest is waning or I’m just not feeling the story….

…but…

…that doesn’t necessarily mean that because I decide to DNF a book, it’s because the book is bad.  Sometimes I DNF because I can’t push through fast enough, or I started off enjoying the book but then lost interest.  So it is for today’s two titles.  Read on to find out why I made the decision to put them down…and why you might like to pick them up.


 

built on bones

 

I received Built on Bones:15000 Years of Urban Life and Death by Brenna Hassett from Bloomsbury Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Humans and their immediate ancestors were successful hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years, but in the last fifteen thousand years humans have gone from finding food to farming it, from seasonal camps to sprawling cities, from a few people to hordes. Drawing on her own fieldwork in the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, and beyond, archeologist Brenna Hassett explores the long history of urbanization through revolutionary changes written into the bones of the people who lived it.

For every major new lifestyle, another way of dying appeared. From the “cradle of civilization” in the ancient Near East to the dawn of agriculture on the American plains, skeletal remains and fossil teeth show evidence of shorter lives, rotten teeth, and growth interrupted. The scarring on human skeletons reveals that getting too close to animals had some terrible consequences, but so did getting too close to too many other people.

Each chapter of Built on Bones moves forward in time, discussing in depth humanity’s great urban experiment. Hassett explains the diseases, plagues, epidemics, and physical dangers we have unwittingly unleashed upon ourselves throughout the urban past–and, as the world becomes increasingly urbanized, what the future holds for us. In a time when “Paleo” lifestyles are trendy and so many of us feel the pain of the city daily grind, this book asks the critical question: Was it worth it?

Built on Bones is a nonfiction look at how our species evolved from roaming nomad hunter-gatherers, through a settled farming lifestyle to our current incarnation as urban couch potatoes and asks whether the trendy “paleo” way of living really is based on the actual way that hunter-gatherer societies functioned.  Hassett begins at the beginning, with the oldest remains of settled societies before moving on chapter by chapter toward our present-day urban living.  I put this one down after 109 pages – about halfway through chapter five – in the middle of an interesting discussion on equality and ways in which social power structures (in early societies as well as more modern ones) tend to shape who gets access to which food resources and how this then affects our understanding of historical societies when we dig up their bones.

This was a completely fascinating read, and one to use against that annoying “clean-eating, whole-food” aficionado that we all have in our social circle.  Hassett injects lots of humour into what is essentially an academic work, as well as plenty of footnotes that I came to think of as snide asides, and the only reason I have DNFed this as a review book is that it is taking me far too long to get through.  If you look at my Goodreads challenge you can see I’ve been reading it for over a month and I’m still only a third of the way through.  Seeing as the book is released this month, I really couldn’t see how I could possibly get through it all in order to give it a proper review in a timely fashion.

So this was a DNF for me review-wise, but I am certain that I will keep reading it until the end, although I can’t imagine how long that will take.  Definitely give it a go if you are interested in anthropology and how our access to and methods of making and consuming food impacts on our lifespan and general health.

carmer and grit

We received Carmer and Grit #1: The Wingsnatchers by Sarah Jean Horwitz from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A stunning debut about a magician’s apprentice and a one-winged princess who must vanquish the mechanical monsters that stalk the streets and threaten the faerie kingdom.

Aspiring inventor and magician’s apprentice Felix Carmer III would rather be tinkering with his latest experiments than sawing girls in half on stage, but with Antoine the Amazifier’s show a tomato’s throw away from going under, Carmer is determined to win the cash prize in the biggest magic competition in Skemantis. When fate throws Carmer across the path of fiery, flightless faerie princess Grit (do not call her Grettifrida), they strike a deal. If Carmer will help Grit investigate a string of faerie disappearances, she’ll use her very real magic to give his mechanical illusions a much-needed boost against the competition. But Carmer and Grit soon discover they’re not the only duo trying to pair magic with machine – and the combination can be deadly.

In this story perfect for readers of the Lockwood & Co and Wildwood series, Sarah Jean Horwitz takes readers on a thrilling journey through a magical wooded fairyland and steampunk streets where terrifying automata cats lurk in the shadows and a mad scientist’s newest mechanical invention might be more menace than miracle.

This story is a complex steampunk/fantasy tale aimed at middle graders.  I enjoyed the initial chapters immensely, as they featured solid world building and a clean introduction to the problems that the characters were going to face later on, but I ended up putting this one down at 33%.  I have a hit and miss relationship with steampunk stories generally, but it was the magic elements of the story that put me off. I found that I was much more fascinated with the automatons that Carmer had dreams of building (and the mysterious, sinister automaton cat that appears early on) than with Grit, the fairy princess with a chip (and only one wing) on her shoulder.

While the mystery and the danger that the main characters would face was set up nicely, I just found my interest waning after a little while.  I can see this series gaining plenty of fans though, so if you enjoy your fantasy stories blended with another genre I would definitely give this one a go.


So what do you think?  Have either of these titles sparked your interest?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Fi50 Reminder and Double Dip Review

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It’s that time of the month again – Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday!  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

button_when-one-door-shuts

Good luck!


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I don’t know about you but I’m all chocolated out after Easter, so I’ll be opting for a savoury snack to accompany my musings about one middle grade sci-fi comedy novel and one YA coming of age tale.  Grab your snack and let’s nosh on!

First up we have The Broken Bridge by Phillip Pullman which we received from PanMacmillan Australia for review.  This is a re-release of the novel which was first published in 1994 and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At 16, Ginny finds that her love of painting connects her to the artistic Haitian mother she never knew and eases the isolation she feels as the only mixed-race teen in her Welsh village. When she learns she has a half-brother by her father’s first marriage, her world is shattered. Ginny embarks on a quest for the truth that will allow her to claim her artistic heritage–and face her father.

the broken bridge

Dip into it for…

…a solid family drama with authentic characters and believable problems.  Ginny is a resilient young woman with a strong desire to be an artist like her mother was, but is plagued by the usual stressors and angst that most teens fall victim to at sometime or other during adolescence.  She has the added problem of trying to catch hold of a solid identity as a girl with a Welsh father and Haitian mother while living in an almost all-white village.  The secrets hinted at in the blurb are revealed slowly and by about a third of the way through the book I began to share Ginny’s bewilderment about what on major hidden aspect she might find out about her past next.  The pacing is well done, allowing the reader to get a grasp on Ginny, her friends and the general feel of her hometown before throwing in the confusion of multiple family secrets.  Kudos to Pullman also for creating a social worker character who is actually human, rather than overbearing, cold-hearted and disconnected or patronising.

Don’t dip if…

…you want simple resolutions to easily-solved problems.  Every story has two sides here, even that of the villainous Joe Chicago.

Overall Dip Factor

This is an engaging coming of age story that paints family breakdown, death and abuse in a believable light without resorting to gratuitous teen melodrama.  By the end of the book the reader can appreciate how Ginny has matured in her outlook despite not having all the answers about how she will present herself in the world.  I enjoyed this book for its authentic portrayal of a young person carving out a place for herself in her family and in the world.

Next we have How to Outsmart a Billion Robot Bees, the second in the Genius Factor books featuring Nate and Delphine, by Paul Tobin.  We received our copy from Bloomsbury Australia for review and we will be submitting this one for the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 in the category of a book with a red spine and the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017 AND my Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge in the category of something you’d take on a hunt.  I reckon a billion robot bees would be pretty handy.  You can check on my progress for all the challenges I’m undertaking this year here.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s Friday the 13th again, and for sixth grade genius Nate Bannister, that means doing three more not-so-smart things to keep life interesting. But he has bigger problems than his own experiments. His nemesis, the Red Death Tea Society, is threatening to unleash a swarm of angry bees on the city of Polt if Nate doesn’t join their ranks. But then a new group of people with murky intentions shows up — the League of Ostracized Fellows — and they want Nate as their own, too. To top it off, he’s convinced there’s a spy in his very own school.

Nate must once again team up with his new, resourceful, friend Delphine to save the day. They’ll need the help of Nate’s crazy gadgets, such as his talking car Betsy and super-powered pets Bosper the Scottish terrier and Sir William the gull, if they hope to see another Friday the 13th. Because they might be battling more than just sting-happy bees and villains with a penchant for tea this time around.

Dip into it for… billion robot bees

…silliness, wild inventions and bee stings in sensitive places.  I do enjoy the quirky tone and dry yet silly humour that Tobin has created in these books.  There is a certain imagery conjured up by his writing that is truly giggleworthy.  Nate and Delphine are also a fun pair and the introduction of Melville – a friendly robot bee adopted by Delphine – adds to the action in this installment.  Bosper, Nate’s genetically modified talking dog stole the show for me in this book however – something about his manner of speaking just cracked me up every time.  The plot of this one seemed a lot more straightforward than in the first book despite the inclusion of the socially awkward League of Ostracised Fellows and everybody, including the jealous Betsy the car, had a role to play in saving Polt from bee-mageddon: The Sting-en-ing.

Don’t dip if…

…you are after fast-paced action.  The one quarrel I have with these stories is that the quirky humour, when added to the action sequences, slows down the pace of the story interminably.  My edition clocked in at 340ish pages and by about halfway I was ready for the resolution to start coming into play.  While the humour is a massively important part of these books, the constant banter does really slow things down when it feels like things should be speeding up.

Overall Dip Factor

I can’t remember why I didn’t finish the first book in this series, but I think it was something to do with the pacing and a lag in the middle.  This book does suffer from the same ailment in my opinion, but I got a lot further along in this story before I really felt the lag, compared to the first book.  Nate and Delphine are so likable and the style of humour so enjoyable that I would still pick up a third in the series, but I would be hoping that the story overall would move a bit quicker.

Right, I’m ready for chocolate again after that.  Have you read either of these books?  Do you like a bit of silly, quirky comedy?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

A Middle-Grade Mystery Double Dip Review: Best Mistakes and Girl Detectives…

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I hope you won’t have to search out your snack to accompany today’s double dip review, because that’s exactly what is happening in today’s two middle grade mysteries…although, technically, it’s not snacks that are being hunted down, it’s secrets and trickery.  Let’s jump straight in with a girl detective, shall we?

We received The Great Shelby Holmes: Girl Detective by Elizabeth Eulberg from Bloomsbury Australia for review and here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Meet spunky sleuth Shelby and her sports-loving sidekick Watson as they take on a dog-napper in this fresh twist on Sherlock Holmes.
Shelby Holmes is not your average sixth grader. She’s nine years old, barely four feet tall, and the best detective her Harlem neighborhood has ever seen—always using logic and a bit of pluck (which yes, some might call “bossiness”) to solve the toughest crimes.

When eleven-year-old John Watson moves downstairs, Shelby finds something that’s eluded her up till now: a friend. Easy-going John isn’t sure of what to make of Shelby, but he soon finds himself her most-trusted (read: only) partner in a dog-napping case that’ll take both their talents to crack.

Sherlock Holmes gets a fun, sweet twist with two irresistible young heroes and black & white illustrations throughout in this middle grade debut from internationally bestselling YA author Elizabeth Eulberg.

Dip into it for… shelby holmes

…a fun and tongue-in-cheek mystery featuring a strong yet quirky female protagonist and an honest and down-to-earth narrator.  I will absolutely admit that when this landed on my shelf I immediately rolled my eyes and thought, “Oh sweet baby cheeses, not ANOTHER Sherlock Holmes spin off”, but I genuinely enjoyed this tale and quickly warmed to the characters mostly, I think, due to the endearing and self-deprecating voice of John Watson, the narrator.  John felt like a pretty authentic young lad who has just moved to a new city (again) and is faced with the task of making friends (any friends) to avoid having to think about his dad’s disappearing act.  Shelby is supremely annoying in some parts, in true Sherlock Holmes fashion, but the author does a good job of pointing out (through John’s observations) her vulnerabilities and desire for camaraderie.  The story deals with a mystery involving a wealthy family and a disappearing dog which is solved eloquently in the end, leaving everyone something to think about.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like Sherlock Holmes rebooted for youngsters?  This story certainly wouldn’t have made it onto my TBR had it not been sent to me for review, but I will happily admit that this would have been my mistake.  Even if you are a bit over re-hashed detective concepts for middle grade readers, this one is genuinely warm and worth a look.

Overall Dip Factor

I would certainly recommend this to young readers who enjoy mystery mixed with humour in a setting that allows real-life issues – like making friends, dealing with parental separation and moving to a new city – to come to the fore.  The characters are well-developed enough to give the story a bit of depth and the mystery is interesting enough to have youngsters guessing along until the big reveal.  This is definitely one of the more accomplished Sherlock Holmes homages I’ve seen about.

I will be submitting this book for the Popsugar Challenge 2017Popsugar Challenge 2017 under category #27: a book featuring someone’s name in the title.  You can check out my progress toward the challenge here.

Next up we have a tale of vintage cars, dog-walking and another set of quirky friends in The Best Mistake Mystery by Sylvia McNicoll.  We received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Dogwalker extraordinaire Stephen Nobel can get a little anxious, but his habit of counting the mistakes he and everyone else makes calms him. His need to analyze gets kicked into hyperdrive after two crazy events happen in one day at school: the bomb squad blows up a backpack and someone smashes a car into the building.

To make things worse, that someone thinks Stephen can identify them. Stephen receives a threatening text. If he goes to the police, his favourite dogs, Ping and Pong, will get hurt. The pressure mounts when his new best friend, Renée, begs for Stephen’s help. Her brother has been charged with the crimes and she wants to clear his name.

Is it a mistake to give in to dognappers? How can he possibly save everybody? To find out, Stephen will have to count on all of his new friends.

Dip into it for… best mistake mystery

…a multi-layered mystery that can only be pieced together by someone who spends their time scanning the neighbourhood under the cover of dogwalking.  Stephen is a conscientious sort of a boy and Renee is a loyal friend with a rebellious streak.  Both kids need a friend and it turns out that hanging out with the “weird” kid needn’t be a bad thing.  The mystery in this one unfolds slowly, with different elements added as the days go on and it is not clear to Stephen and Renee – or indeed, the reader – how, or even if, certain pieces of the puzzle fit together. Every character has a backstory here, as one often finds in a small neighbourhood, and there are plenty of people who had the opportunity, if not the motive, to drive a car into the front of the school.  The same is true of the threatening texts that Stephen begins to receive – plenty of people could have had the opportunity – but why would anyone want to hurt Ping and Pong?

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of dogs.  I’m serious.  There is a lot of dog-walking, dog-feeding and general dog-tending going on here, and that’s before Ping and Pong come under the threat of dognapping.  I will admit that this became tedious after a while.  I understand that Stephen, as a character, is totally committed to his doggy clients, but I didn’t feel like I needed quite that much detail as to how he went about looking after them.

Overall Dip Factor

This is certainly an original story with a mystery that will have even the most committed mystery-readers puzzling along with the characters.  There are plenty of red-herrings thrown in and lots of possible motives for all sorts of characters, and in the end things aren’t exactly as our two protagonists imagined them to be.  I enjoyed watching the friendship between Renee and Stephen grow.  The author has done a good job of letting the trust build slowly, while the bonds between the two are forged through trial.  This wasn’t an outstanding read, in my opinion, but definitely worth a look if you can handle lots of doggy description and enjoy a complex, neighbourhood-driven mystery.

I hope if you have a canine in the house that you provided them with a nice treat while you read the preceding review, but I suppose if you didn’t there’s still time to do it now.

We’ll wait.

So, do either of these take you fancy?  Are you sick of rehashes of famous detective stories too?  Have you ever read a dog-walking mystery before?  Let me know!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Yetis, Ants and Unruly Hair…

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It’s a Bloomsbury Australia triple-dipping rodeo today with three new release picture books guaranteed to delight and amaze your mini-fleshlings!  Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copies.

I’m Going to Eat This Ant (Chirs Naylor-Ballesteros)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  i am going to eat this ant

A hungry ant-eater is determined to eat an ant but has trouble deciding which delicious method he will use to prepare his snack. Meanwhile, the ants have ideas of their own and anteater’s snack isn’t going to be quite so easy as that!

Muster up the motivation because…

…from the seriously sinister look on the anteater’s face to the enormously imaginative ways that he dreams up to prepare his ant meal, young readers will be able to tell at a glance that the main character of this book is one nasty customer.  The creative culinary mind of said anteater, while inexplicably fixated on the letter “s”, takes in every possible method of food preparation, from sauteeing, to smoking, sandwiches to drinks with straws.  One of the highlights of the book is surely the look on the unlucky ant’s face as he is mentally sloshed in sauce and sizzled on a stick.  Our favourite page would have to be that on which the poor little ant is depicted sliced like a salami – I will always marvel at how illustrators manage to convey so much emotion with just a few slashes of line!  We particularly enjoyed the final endpapers depicting the ants marching along with all the anteater’s imagined foodstuffs and utensils…and the cheeky surprise as you turn over the very last endpaper page!  As the methods of dispatching the ant become nastier and nastier, it was somewhat of a relief to note that the other ants in the nest have a cunning plan to save their comrade and see off the nasty anteater.  The ending will no doubt have mini-fleshlings cheering as the anteater gets his comeuppance.  This is a wickedly funny picture book for young ones who enjoy subversive humour.

Brand it with:

Ant-i-establishment; the circle of life; alliterative eats

Henry and the Yeti (Russell Ayto)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  henry and the yeti

Nobody believes Henry when he says he is off to find a Yeti. With determination, a little mountain climbing and his trusty camera, Henry is sure that he can provide the evidence his headteacher needs to prove that Yetis exist.

Muster up the motivation because…

…summing up the oft-touted exhortation of “pictures or it didn’t happen”, this story is a fun, reverse take on the fable of the boy who cried wolf.  Rather than pretending that something exists when it doesn’t, Henry is adamant that Yetis are real and what’s more, he is prepared to put his money where his mouth is and go on an expedition to prove it.  Young readers will no doubt find something to relate to in the early scenes of the book, in which Henry is ridiculed for believing in something so outlandish, but with determination and his trusty camera by his side (for evidence, of course) Henry backs himself and sets off to glory and beyond.  After a mishap with his camera however, it looks like Henry’s successful mission might be in jeopardy…but a friend in need is a friend indeed and a surprising ally turns up in the nick of time to support Henry’s claims.  This story is replete with dry humour – “Now the headteacher is having a little lie down” says the text, with the illustrations showing that he has clearly fainted – and bears a wonderful message about believing in yourself.  We particularly enjoyed the fact that the illustrator didn’t overstretch himself in creating the character of the Yeti.  (That was dry humour too).

Brand it with:

Cryptozooloogy in the classroom; documentary evidence; expeditionary forces

I Don’t Want Curly Hair (Laura Ellen Anderson)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  curly hair

A girl with unruly curls tries everything to make her hair straight, with no success.  Upon meeting someone with a different outlook, both girls start to appreciate what they have.

Muster up the motivation because…

…it’s the age old tale of wanting something that everyone else has, before finding out that what you have ain’t so bad after all.  This isn’t the most original picture book getting around the place – which is surprising, given that Anderson is the creator of The Phoenix magazine’s brilliant Evil Emperor Penguin comic series – but its message, and the protagonist’s daily struggles to tame her wild curls, will be familiar to anyone who has ever tried to brush a child’s curly hair without the assistance of a detangling spray, detangling brush and several litres of spray-on hair anaesthetic.  The rhyming text and the inventive ways that the girl comes up with to solve her curly problem will have little ones entranced and giggling along and the ending clearly demonstrates how the greener grass – or in this case, the straighter hair – isn’t necessariily the boon that our protagonist thinks it is.  Overall, this story has been done before, many times, but the humour and rhyming text make this worth a look if you have a mini-fleshling with wild, untamed curls.

Brand it with:

Getting things straight; tangled tales; opposites attract

I hope you’ve found something to herd into your book-pen!  What have you been rounding up to read lately?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

On For Young and Old: Activity books from wicked to wonderful…

3

If you (or your mini-fleshlings) are already twiddling your thumbs and the school holidays haven’t even started yet, allow me to avail you of some fantastic activity books that will give your thumbs, and indeed the rest of your hand-based digits, something to do.  Let’s start with something for the grownups, shall we, with…

The Wicked Plants Colouring Book (Amy Stewart and Briony Morrow-Cribbs)

which we received for review from Scribe Publications

wicked-plants

From Goodreads:

A colouring book with a dark side

In The Wicked Plants Colouring Book, Amy Stewart and artist Briony Morrow-Cribbs bring colouring enthusiasts the 40 most menacing botanical atrocities from their New York Times bestseller Wicked Plants. Morrow-Cribbs’s exquisite etchings are now finely rendered colouring-book art and are paired with details from the original book.

Drawing on history, medicine, science, and legend, and written with Stewart’s trademark wit, each wonderfully creepy spread offers a fascinating portrait of the evildoers of the plant world, from the vine that ate the South (kudzu) to the weed that killed Lincoln’s mother (white snakeroot) to the world’s deadliest seed (rosary pea).

If this time of year generally has you making a list (of people who have wronged you during the past year) and checking it twice, then you are definitely the sort of person for whom the colouring of deadly plants could be a relaxing and educational experience.  I was woefully unaware of the original nonfiction title that spawned this black and white spin-off, but Wicked Plants is now definitely on my TBR list.

As well as providing some gorgeous and detailed line drawings of the aforementioned floral evildoers for you to wile away the hours colouring in, each plant picture is accompanied by a short paragraph of text explaining the specific wickedness of said plant and providing tidbits of scientific information about it.  The cover star of the book, in case you are wondering, is the Betel Nut, a highly addictive nut prized for its chewability, but a chief cause of mouth cancer and asthma.  A small selection of the 40 delightfully deadly plants included here are the innocent-seeming Water Hyacinth (waterway clogger extraordinaire), the highly toxic Death Camas (well, the name did warn you), and the completely-poisonous-except-for-one-tiny-bit (can you guess which one?) Yew.  The plants are listed in alphabetical order, with a foreword from the author at the beginning, and some blank pages at the back for you to draw your own plants.

I think the most charming thing about this particular activity book is that it bears a “This book belongs to” stamp at the front, so that budding poisoners can ensure that nobody makes off with their tome of flowering death.  If you are, or you know, a green thumb who is also quite at home with the dark side of plant life, this would make the perfect gift.  Other than that, perhaps you could keep it beside your list of enemies, for when you need a light break.

Next we have one for the middle-sized fleshlings of your acquaintance…

Doodles Activity Book 

which we received from Allen & Unwin for review

doodles-activity-book

Doodles Activity Book Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November 2016. RRP: $16.99

From Allen & Unwin:

A hilariously funny activity book filled with wacky drawing ideas. DRAW-SNAP-SEND-LAUGH – submit your drawing directly to the interactive animated comedy series Doodles, now screening on ABC3.

Take a monster selfie, untangle a robot’s wiring or create your own UFO in this comic and appealing activity book with loads of child appeal. Full of hilarious drawing activities, funny dot-to-dots, zany find-a-words, wacky mazes and other mad-cap activities sure to spark a child’s creativity, this book from the creators of the successful television show of the same name will be a winner for Christmas.

The interactive television show, Doodles, in which kids’ drawings are turned into micro movies is now screening on ABC ME. Kids can submit their drawings to the television show by following the instructions in the activity book.

As with the previous title, I had absolutely no idea that this book is based on a TV show currently screening on ABCMe (formerly ABC3).   At first glance, this book doesn’t appear to be anything too different or special when it comes to drawing prompt-type books for kids, but having had a quick look at the website for the show, which encourages kids to send in their drawings, which are then made into short animations, this activity book starts to make a lot more sense. I would definitely encourage you to use the book in conjunction with having a goggle at the show, to provide inspiration beyond what’s provided in the pages here.  Don’t panic if you think you’ll forget the website for the show – all the social media addresses are included in the book – and there’s even a little instruction page detailing how kids can submit their drawings for the show.

The book itself is a satisfying A4 size, and divided into sections based on different themes – dinosaurs, superheroes, aliens, technology and robots, and magic and fantasy.  Personally, I think this is a great idea because not only does it allow the user to flick to whatever interests them first, but it but it also provides a focused prompt and allows users to practice one particular type of drawing before moving on to the next.  As well as lots of doodling prompts, each section has a range of other activities, such as colouring by numbers, decoding puzzles, crosswords, funny labelling activities and mad libs style fill-in-the-blank activities, so even if your mini-fleshling isn’t a drawing desperado, they should find something to keep them busy inside this book.  

The final section of the book is a “Make Your Own Movie” chapter, in which users are guided through the process of creating a story from start to finish.  Page prompts detail how to create characters, decide on a conflict and push the story through to an exciting ending.  This is a great way to keep the mini-fleshlings busy for more than just a few minutes, as they plan and create a story, rather than just fill in an activity page.

On closer inspection, I’m pretty impressed with the quality of the prompts found in the Doodles Activity book.  If you are looking for a way to get your kids away from their screens without cancelling all screen time, this book could be a great middle point as it uses the TV show as a starting point to fire kids’ imaginations.

And finally, we have one for the whole family, whether you’re snowed in or sweating it out…

The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book (Andy Seed & Scott Garrett)

which we received for review from Bloomsbury Australia

anti-boredom-christmas

From Bloomsbury Australia:

Warning: This book will cure all boredom!

Christmas is everyone’s favourite time of year. But it can also get a bit boring from time to time. Those long journeys to see Aunty Periwinkle can seem to drag on forever! But look no further because Andy Seed’s Anti-boredom Christmas Book will cure all those Christmas boredom blues!

Find out how to say snow in 16 different languages; discover who banned Christmas carols; act out your own wacky routine of the Twelve Days of Christmas… and much much more!

This fantastically festive witty and wacky book is bursting full of laugh-out-loud facts, games, quizzes plus heaps more for hours of fun. Packed full of Scott Garrett’s hilarious artwork, this book is sure to keep you entertained for hours of festive fun! 

“So how is this different from other Christmas activity books, Bruce?” I hear you ask.  Well, for a start, The Anti-Boredom Christmas book is far less focused on using the book as the starting point for the activity, rather encouraging people, both young and old, to share their ideas, likes and dislikes about all things Christmas.  Divided into a range of handy sections which cover everything from snowfall to festive music to Christmas around the world, each section features jokes to tell, objects or events to rate, challenges to complete individually or with family or friends, riddles to solve, games to play and contentious topics (like whether real or fake Christmas trees are superior) to debate.  My favourite bit (being a bit of a nerdy nerd) was discovering a list of Toy of the Year winners from 1965 to 2015, although I had a bit of a chuckle at a collection of real and made up festive place names from around the world (did you know the US boasts a town named Santa Claus?), and I thought hard over a would-you-rather game involving Christmas films.  The only downside to the book is that it is quite Northern Hemisphere-centric, and even Britain-centric, and younger Aussie readers may not quite get the references to Pantos and such.  

The book is quite a small size, which makes it super-handy for travelling, but ensures that the text is packed onto the page, so a quick flick through really gives the impression that there is plenty to get one’s teeth into to ward off holiday boredom.  It’s also beautifully formatted so that you can just open it at a random page and have a go at whatever you happen to land on, be it joke-telling, snowflake crafting or playing a Christmas-themed guessing game.  I think the best part about this book is that most of the activities within it beg to be shared with others, encouraging interaction rather than isolation on screen or over page.  If you are going on a long boring train, plane or car trip, or expect some drop-outs to your Wifi this holiday season, The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book is a great solution for when you need ten festive minutes to fill.

Hopefully one of these books has taken your fancy and we on the Shelf have once again assisted you with your gift-buying needs.  Or, you know, just helped you add a few extra books to your teetering TBR pile.

Until next time,

Bruce