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!

 

dragon-with-a-chocolate-heart-2

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?

henry-hoobler

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.

marge-and-the-pirate-baby

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?

henrietta-and-the-perfect-night

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

 

 

 

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

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Domestics, Servants and Robotic Appliances” Edition…

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We’re rounding out our Children’s Book Week Chaser with some longer reads for the middle grade age bracket.  I’ve got three books here featuring everything from cats to robotic siblings, so surely there’ll be something in the mix to entice you.  Got your spats sorted?  Then let’s crack on!

Brobot (James Foley)

*We received a copy of Brobot from Fremantle Press for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  30120603

Sally Tinker is an inventor extraordinaire, so when her baby brother doesn’t measure up to her expectations, she creates her own.  But is a robotic sibling really all it’s cracked up to be?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this fun graphic novel is chock-full of humour, chaos and unexpected bugs in the program.  Sally is a girl who knows what she wants and even has the skills to create it, while her baby brother is….well, a bit of a messy, stinky, noisy baby.  Sally, with the best of intentions, takes it upon herself to invent an improved version of a little brother, but doesn’t count on her invention learning from the real thing.  Of course disaster strikes and Sally comes to learn that perhaps the good things about having a living, breathing sibling outweigh some of the bad – although maybe not the stinky bits.  The narrative parts of the book are broken up here and there with some text-heavy diagrams but for the most part, this is exactly the kind of book that will draw in the more reluctant base of young readers due to the saturation of illustrations, the interesting fonts and the easy-to-digest chunks of text.  Add to that the humour of stinky nappies, exploding machines and general mayhem and you’d have to agree that this book has everything that young readers love, all wrapped up in a visually appealing package.  I’d definitely recommend this one for readers aged from about seven or eight on up, who enjoy funny, fast-paced stories.

Brand it with:

Artificial intelligence; super siblings; experimental relationships

The Twins of Tintarfell (James O’Loghlin)

*We received a copy of The Twins of Tintarfell from PanMacmillan Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  30173433

Dani and Bart are twins, orphans and servants in the castle of the King of Tintarfell.  When Bart is unexpectedly kidnapped, Dani tries to rescue him – but has no idea of the sacrifices she may need to make along the way.

Muster up the motivation because…

…as fantasy adventure stories go, this one has its fair share of twists, turns, humour and warthogs.  This was a really unexpected read for me and I’m still not sure quite what to make of it.  The story has elements of adventure, betrayal, murder and secrecy, yet at the same time has a light tone and a strong dose of tongue-in-cheek humour.  It reminded me of a strange blend of The Princess Bride, The Chronicles of Narnia and a Monty Python film to be honest.  There was something a little off about the pacing, I felt; I kept expecting the bit I was reading to be the precursor to a BIG event, but each time the book just slid quietly into the next twist or reveal.  At the same time though, there were bits of the story that felt really original and intriguing, like the Soarers, the curse upon Dani and Bart’s special talent.   The three main characters, Dani, Bart and Edmund, are all well-developed and we are privy to each of their strengths and flaws as the story unfolds.  The final few chapters neatly work the protagonists through a number of key choices that will ultimately define the people they will become, and so the ending is feels satisfyingly meaningful after all the derring-do and (in the case of Edmund) some derring-don’t (or should that be derring-didn’t?).  I definitely enjoyed this book and the author seems to hit his stride about a third of the way in, but at times I felt like he couldn’t quite decide whether the book was supposed to be primarily a comedy or an adventure, and so we are treated to each in turn.  If you are fan of light fantasy and adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then I would encourage you to give this a read.

Brand it with:

Sisters doin’ it for themselves (and everyone else); Good vs Evil; Animal magnetism

Malkin Moonlight (Emma Cox)

*We received a copy of Malkin Moonlight from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  31139009

Malkin Moonlight is a cat blessed by the moon, who loves a domestic cat named Roux.  Together they will do great things and heal a rift in their new home.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a gentle tale about using one’s life (lives!) well in the pursuit of peace and happiness.  While not being the biggest fan of books featuring animal societies, I still found this to be an enjoyable read due to the episodic chapters and old-fashioned narrative style.  As the story progresses the reader finds out more about Malkin and Roux as they discover new things about themselves through various challenges and sticky situations.  After the relationship between Malkin and Roux is thoroughly established, the story moves on to a different setting – a world of cats, if you will – which is in sore need of a peacemaker.  Malkin comes to fill that role in the nick of time before a man made disaster looks set to threaten the existence of the cats’ new home.  I think this book will hit the mark for middle grade readers who love a good animal story and the illustrations here and there throughout will give an added context to their imagining of the story. There was a subtle sense of schmaltz underlying the story that put me off slightly – something to do with the cats’ (and particularly Roux’s) turns of phrase, I suspect – but that is possibly to be expected from a tale that promises a hero finding his destiny in the blurb.  This is one to watch out for if you have a crazy cat person in training in your dwelling.

Brand it with:

Wild at heart; warring factions; moonlight shenanigans

Well, with that round-up our Children’s Book Week Chaser comes to a close.  I hope you have found at least one book that will suit a mini-fleshling of your acquaintance!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Crushed Under a Mountain of Picture Books” Edition…

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On this, the second day of my very own Children’s Book Week, I have no less than five brilliant picture books for your perusal.  Let’s ride on in before they get away!

The Little Bad Wolf (Sam Bowring and Lachlan Creagh)

*We received a copy of The Little Bad Wolf from Hachette Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:

The Big Bad Wolf has retired and now his grandson wants to step in to take his place, causing havoc and general mischief.  Once again though, it seems like the pigs have one over on the wolves, and besides, what kind of trouble could a little wolf really cause?

Muster up the motivation because…

…the unusual formatting and detailed illustrations will have mini-fleshlings poring over the book as you regale them with the tale of one very naughty little wolf.  The story is laid out in a comic-style format, with each page featuring a number of different frames, with text in each.  The detail in some of the illustrations is impressive, and I’m sure young readers will love trying to find their favourite fairy-tale characters in the pictures.  The Little Bad Wolf truly is a naughty, naughty boy, harassing and threatening to eat Mrs Pig.  Mrs Pig looks like she’s heard it all before and laughs off Little Wolf’s antics until…he goes a bit too far, resulting in the now retired Big Bad Wolf getting involved.  There is a hilarious illustration during the scene in which the Big Bad Wolf is explaining why he gave up the pig-eating game featuring an aged woodsman on his motorised mobility scooter, still keeping an eye on his archnemesis!  In the end, it seems that Little Bad Wolf’s antics may have backfired, but it doesn’t look like he had learned his lesson just yet.  The highlight of this book for me was definitely the incredibly detailed and vivid illustrations, featuring everything from Baba Yaga and the Rock-a-Bye baby, to a bunch of elves picketing the Shoemaker for higher wages.  The complex page spreads really add depth to the world and the story.  If you are a fan of fairy tale reworkings, then this is definitely worth a good look.

Brand it with:

Historical vendettas; young rapscallions; piggy poise

Seek and Find Space (Emiliano Magliardo)

*We received a copy of Seek and Find Space from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis: Seek and Find Space

Find out about space while having fun!  Search for pictures on each page while learning interesting tidbits about the world beyond planet Earth.

Muster up the motivation because…

…while this isn’t the most informative title you’ll ever see on the subject of space, it would certainly have to be one of the most fun.  The book is structured in double page spreads that each relate to a different topic – the solar system, star-gazing, the space station, for instance.  Each page features a little snippet of information about the topic, a large illustration and a selection of images that mini-fleshlings can hunt for in the picture.  The illustrations are cartoonish and wacky, and keen-eyed youngsters will find lots of things to make them giggle, such as a gondolier singing to his loved-up alien passengers, and the iconic bear-shaped honey dispenser blasting off on the page about rockets.  My favourite page would have to be that of the Big Bang, with everything from cave people to a very cheerful looking crab being blasted into existence.  Again, this isn’t going to satisfy kids who really want to find out information about space, but it is certainly a fun distraction for those with an interest in all things extra-terrestrial.

Brand it with:

Extra-curricular extra-terrestrial; new discoveries; fun with finding stuff

Sir Dancealot (Timothy Knapman & Keith Robinson)

*We received a copy of Sir Dancealot from Bloomsbury for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  Sir Dancealot

Sir Dancealot defeats monsters using his dance moves, keeping the kingdom safe.  But what will happen when one of the monsters knows how to dance too?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this boogie-tastic little book has all the fun and excitement of So You Think You Can Dance?, with the added bonus of dancing dragons and ice skating.  The illustrations are bright and bold and the cover literally shines due to some glittery accents.  The rhyming text makes this one perfect for reading aloud and the dance-mad younger mini-fleshling in the dwelling immediately requested it to be read again as soon as it was finished.  Sir Dancealot is obviously a pretty fabulous guy, looking, as he does, like a young John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever, yet he doesn’t shy away from a challenge when the dragon challenges him to a dance-off…on ice!  There’s plenty of giggle-worthy imagery here to keep the mini-fleshlings happy and the twist at the end is worth waiting for.  I’d definitely recommend this to young readers who like their pre-bedtime stories fast, fun and funky.

Brand it with:

Boogie shoes; Strictly Come Reading; perfect pirouettes

Lucy and Company (Marianne Dubuc)

*We received a copy of Lucy and Company from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  28665603

Lucy loves to play with her animal friends in the woods, sharing snacks and having adventures.  But don’t wake Anton the bear!

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is every bit as whimsical, joyful and charming as the cover would indicate.  The book actually features three short stories featuring Lucy and her animal friends, each one reading like a single picture book tale.  Of the three stories, The Hatchlings was my particular favourite as I found it to be the funniest and the most unexpected.  Adrian the snail steals the show, in my opinion (particularly while trying to brood some abandoned eggs!) but each of the stories is replete with warmth, adventure and humour.  The endpapers feature a gorgeous map of the woods showing where each animal lives and the illustrations throughout are filled with colour and exuberance.  I can see this being a book that young readers would ask for again and again, because even though the stories are very short, they are memorable and imaginative and fun.  I am super-pleased to have discovered Lucy and her company and I will  be looking out for any further adventures.

Brand it with:

Adventurous animals; fun with friends; don’t antagonise Anton

The Day I Became A Bird (Ingrid Chabbert & Raul Nieto Guridi)

*We received a copy of The Day I Became A Bird from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  28665602

On his first day of school, a young boy falls in love.  In order to attract the attention of his beloved, he transforms himself into the thing he knows she will love most.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this unusual and beguiling tale put me immediately in mind of the work of Oliver Jeffers, with its quirky illustrative style and unexpected subject matter.  The boy in the book falls innocently in love with the bird-loving girl who sits in front of him at school, and makes himself a bird costume (despite its obvious impracticalities) in order to attract her attention.  There is something a bit ethereal about the story as a whole and the intended audience is not immediately clear to me.  On the one hand, it is a straightforward and quite cute story about a young boy’s first love, but I also sense that there might be something deeper going on within the pages that I am missing.  Whatever the case, this is a surprising and funny story with a distinct visual style and I would recommend it to any lover of quirky picture books as one to keep an (eagle) eye out for.

Brand it with:

Birds suddenly appear; unwieldy costumery; love takes flight

Surely, SURELY, my friends, there is something in this little herd to catch your eye!  Stay tuned tomorrow for an atmospheric and creepy graphic novel perfect for lovers of mystery and magic!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Bloomsbury Middle Grade” Edition

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Today’s Round-Up features three middle grade books from the same publisher – Bloomsbury Australia kindly sent us all three, unexpectedly, for review and we loved one, thoroughly enjoyed another and were left scratching our heads at the positive hype we’d heard about the third.  Regardless, we’ve corralled them all here for your consideration. Giddy-up!

First up, we have the one we loved:

Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den (Aimee Carter)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  simon thorn

Simon lives a pretty lonely life with his uncle while his mother travels the world for work, offset only by his ability to communicate with birds and animals. When Simon’s mother returns unexpectedly and Simon receives a message from an eagle warning him of danger, everything Simon knows is turned upside down.

Muster up the motivation because…

…although the cover screamed “pedestrian book for reluctant male readers” to me, I loved the unexpectedly complex and twisting plot, where no one is completely trustworthy and motives are as murky as unstrained tea. I knocked the book over in two sittings, such was the pull of the adventure and mystery. Simon is a solid and honourable character who just wants to peel back some of the layers of secrecy that have shrouded his existence for so long and there are many surprises in store for him along the way, none of which I feel I can really talk about because they all relate to twists in the tale. The supporting cast of young characters, including Winter, Ariana, Jam and Nolan are believable and, unusually for most middle grade writing, all carry authentic flaws that relate to their backgrounds and loyalties. While the story does have its typical middle grade tropes – a semi-orphaned protagonist, a potential “chosen one” theme, bullied kid makes good and so forth – these aren’t laboured or made the focus of the plot and instead play an integral part in guiding the twists. Best of all, the ending is almost impossible to pick (although seasoned readers of middle grade adventure fantasy will have their theories early on) because all of the main characters, apart from Simon, have motivations that are partly hidden from the reader. This is the first middle grade offering from Carter (and I certainly won’t be examining her YA work, that looks suspiciously like paranormal romance-y type stuff – blerch!) but I am heartily impressed and looking forward to the next instalment in Simon’s adventures. I would recommend this book highly to readers of middle grade looking for an absorbing take on animal shape-shifters and urban fantasy.

Brand it with:

Pigeons vs Rats, sibling rivalry, choose your side

Next up, we have a reissue of an old classic from a master of middle-grade storytelling:

There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom (Louis Sachar)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  there's a boy in the girls bathroom

Bradley Chalkers is the most obnoxious, odious child in school – even the teachers can’t stand him! But when new kid Jeff, and school counsellor Carla come along, things might start looking up for Bradley, if only he can stop sabotaging himself.

Muster up the motivation because…

…You can’t go wrong with Louis Sachar really, can you? Whenever you pick up one of his books you can be assured of interesting (if, in some cases, annoying) characters, amusing writing and some unexpectedly embarrassing events. There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom delivers in all of these areas. Bradley Chalkers is possibly the most deliberately obnoxious character ever written for this age-group and having a purposefully unlikable main character, while seemingly counter-intuitive, actually drew me further into the story. Apart from a few hints at some frightening events in Bradley’s father’s past, we aren’t ever privy to how Bradley got to be so unpleasant and self-defeating, but it is obvious that his problems are long ingrained and almost expected by all those around him, including teachers. The story rolls on toward an inevitable happy ending (with a few speed-bumps and tough decisions toward the end, of course) and the resulting fond feelings on closing the book are the icing on the cake. One of the great things about Sachar’s books is that there always seems to be room for forgiveness, with the young characters often changing their viewpoints and friendships in an authentic way by the end. And speaking of forgiveness, you would be forgiven for wanting to poke Bradley Chalkers in the eye after the first few chapters. I’d recommend this one for young readers looking for a realistic story of friendship and fitting in, with a good dash of humour.

Brand it with:

That weird kid, no one understands me, pay attention to signage

Finally, here’s the one that didn’t live up to the hype from our point of view.

Anyone But Ivy Pocket (Caleb Krisp)

Two Sentence Synopsis: anyone but ivy pocket

A half-witted maidservant is entrusted with delivering a precious jewel to a certain person at a certain time. She does so, while ignoring obvious cues toward villainy and making up stories.
Muster up the motivation because…

…if you enjoy stories featuring “delightfully” oblivious heroines embroiled in the delivery of a (possibly magic) valuable gemstone that people are prepared to kill to possess, then you will probably enjoy Anyone But Ivy Pocket. This one has been on our radar for a while and having heard that it was a funny adventure, with a strong, unique female protagonist, I was quite interested to dive in to the story. Unfortunately for us, Ivy can only be described as either wilfully blind to obvious social cues or spectacularly unintelligent and self-centred. Either way, it proved to be an excruciating reading experience because Blind Freddy (or Fredrika!) could see the glaring plot points that Ivy was missing. This was clearly intentional on the part of the author and I’m not sure why this technique was employed. As an adult reader, I found it to be tedious at best and I can’t imagine that younger readers would find Ivy’s dull-headedness particularly amusing. The narrative style was flippant and light and overall the book is obviously intended to be a humorous, wacky adventure with two-dimensional characters that each fill a particular function in the story. We just couldn’t get over our irritation with Ivy however, in order to enjoy the actual plot. Regardless, plenty of people have really enjoyed this book, but we shelf-dwellers don’t count ourselves amongst that happy number.

Brand it with:

Are you being served?, mystery maids, wacky historical fiction

Two out of three ain’t bad, as they say, so I hope you have found something here, as we did, to amuse and entertain. Thanks again to Bloomsbury Australia for this Round-Up-worthy haul!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Monsters, Mythical and Otherwise” Edition…

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imageReading Round-Up is here again and today’s prey of choice is books about monsters.  Be they mythical or firmly accepted in reality, we’re on the hunt for monsters big and small.  But mostly big.

I’ve got two nonfiction tomes and two middle grade adventure novels for you today, all but one of which we received from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  The last we received from Bloomsbury Australia  Let’s kick off with some excellent nonfiction….

Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths (Darren Naish)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Hunting Monsters is a thorough treatment of the state of cryptozoology today and the hunting monsterschanging face of this oft-maligned (by real scientists) field over time. It covers all your favourite monsters of lore plus some you’ve probably never heard of, including monsters from the African continent and Australia.

Muster up the motivation because…

Don’t let the naff cover design fool you – this is a remarkably engaging read that had me pondering various monstrosities days after I finished reading it.  The book is divided into handy sections – from sea monsters, to hominids, to giant mammals and more – so you can flip around to get the latest on your favourite cryptid, or alternately, as I did, read it cover to cover and fill up your empty brain space with all sorts of in-depth information.  I, for one, was unaware of the varieties of sea monster sightings on record, or of the purported existence of an enormous quadrupedal beast (other than an elephant or giraffe, obviously) getting around in Africa.  Naish also examines how no solid evidence exists  that withstands scientifically rigorous scrutiny that would point in favour of these beasts being actual living beings, but proposes a different direction for the field of cryptozoology regardless.  The only thing I wanted more of in this book was photographs – many “famous” photographs were mentioned throughout, particularly in the Loch Ness Monster section, but it would have greatly enhanced my experience if I’d been able to lay eyes on these photos, rather than having to go and google them later.  Nevertheless, this is a highly recommended read for those who are interested in monsters that may, but almost certainly don’t, wander about in the undiscovered wilds of our planet.

Brand it with:

Did you see that?; The truth is out there; If you go down to the woods today…

Now on to some middle grade adventure fiction with…

The Venom of the Scorpion: Monster Odyssey #4 (John Mayhew)

Two Sentence Synopsis:venom of the scorpion

Dakkar, Indian prince and agent intent on dismantling a group of brothers who are trying to take over the world, is accused of murder and drawn into a complicated web of goddesses, tyranny and violence. As the plot thickens, will Dakkar be able to trust those closest to him?

Muster up the motivation because…

Apart from the attraction of giant scorpions and a plot that reads like Indiana Jones, but without the archaeology, there’s something that no young lover of adventure could pass up featured in this book: Dakkar has his own steampunk-esque submarine!!  This is the fourth book in this series, but the first I have read, so I did find myself in the deep end considering much of the plot surrounding Dakkar’s mission to destroy an evil organisation run by a group of brothers is only glossed over here.  Similarly, not much quarter is given in allowing new readers of the series to get to know the characters and their background and relationships, so I would definitely recommend interested punters start at the beginning of the series.  There is action galore in this book however, so I can imagine it appealing greatly to young male readers who are happy to trade complex character development for the excitement of monsters, piracy, murder, desert cults worshipping giant insect gods, sea battles and the aforementioned steampunk submarine!!  I would be interested in going back and having a look at the earlier books in the series, because although this isn’t my preferred style of middle grade book, the character development and complex plot that are hinted at in this book indicate some high quality adventure in the earlier books.

Brand it with:

Is there a (giant) insect in my hair?; Young Indiana Jones; murder most foul

You’d like more nonfiction, you say?  Coming right up…

Last of the Giants: The Rise and Fall of Earth’s Most Dominant Species (Jeff Campbell & Adam Grano)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

This is an in-depth exploration of giant species – loosely defined – that have become last of the giantsextinct, aimed at a secondary-school aged audience.  The book features recent and historical extinct species and examines how these extinctions can inform our conservation efforts today.

Muster up the motivation because…

You’ll definitely find out some things you didn’t know – or expect – while exploring the life patterns of extinct animals while reading this book.  I, for instance, discovered that Maoris of old apparently epitomised that “hangry” feeling and that if you happened to be a large, tasty reasonably defenceless sort of creature in the olden times, chances were high that you, and all of your relatives, would eventually end up as a human’s dinner. The Steller’s Sea Cow case study I found to be appallingly sad – it beggars belief the amount of times you humans have continued to eat a species until it was extinct! The most interesting thing about this book is that the author  has not just defined “giant” as “physically large”, but includes the Passenger Pigeon, due to its immense swarming impact, and the Tasmanian Tiger, due to its achievement of hanging on to top predator spot when other large mammals in the same location went extinct.  Overall, this is an interesting read with some concerning implications for the current state of the world’s wildlife…including humans.

Brand it with:

My, what big teeth you have!; dominant species; it’s the end of the world as we know it

And finally, one more middle grade adventure…

City of the Yeti (Robert A. Love)

Ten Second Synopsis:city of the yeti.png

It is 1922 and Danny and Rachel leave their home in India and travel to Nepal, pursuing Danny’s interest in the Yeti.  What they discover will change their ideas about humanity forever and plunge them into deadly battles, undiscovered cities and a search for their long-lost grandfather.

Muster up the motivation because…

City of the Yeti is historical fiction with a fantastical twist in a setting that is certainly not often seen in books for this age group.  There is plenty of action and excitement throughout the story, tempered with sections in which our young protagonists must make difficult decisions in an unfamiliar environment.  The one thing that really got my (mountain) goat while reading was that while this is obviously a historical novel, set toward the end of British rule in India, the language is not true to the period.  At one point, Danny’s father, a British aristocrat, says, “Well, uh, sure. That would be nice,” in a spectacularly uncharacteristic display of vernacular speech from a different time and place.  Similarly, the word “spelunking” is used, which, apart from not being coined until some twenty years after this story is set, is decidedly North American in tone.  While younger readers may not mind this so much, I find historical fiction that doesn’t accurately reflect the time that it’s written hugely annoying to read.  If that sort of thing doesn’t bother you however, and you are after an unusual and rollicking adventure that will have you thinking about differences in culture, then definitely give this one a try.

Brand it with:

Under the misty mountains cold; monsters with brains; untouched by civilisation

I will be submitting Hunting Monsters for the Alphabet Soup Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check out my progress toward this challenge, here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

A Trio of MG Mysteries: The Shelf Revisits Knightley and Son (+ a Giveaway!)

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imageIt has been a good long while since we at the shelf first encountered the middle grade mystery debut, Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin, but out of the blue last month Bloomsbury Australia kindly sent us copies of the first two books of the Knightley and Son series – being the aforementioned Knightley and Son and Knightley and Son: K-9 – dressed in quite alluring new covers.  Admittedly, this inspired mixed feelings – more about that in a bit – but our feelings were about to be thoroughly tossed about by the arrival on our doorstep of the third book in the series – 3 of a Kind.  Let it never be said that Bloomsbury is not generous with their review copies!

And speaking of generosity, ONE lucky reader (who happens to also be AUSTRALIAN! – sorry, international readers) will have the chance to win PAPERBACK COPIES of THE FIRST THREE books in the Knightley and Son detective series!! You’re welcome!

Let’s get the giveaway business over with so our non-Australian friends can get back to enjoying my review.  To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link.  Ts and Cs and in the rafflecopter.  The giveaway will be open until February 25th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

For those who are unaware, Knightley and Son is a middle grade detective series featuring Darkus “Doc” Knightley, his father Alan Knightley and his step-sister, Tilly, as they battle against the formidable, mysterious and manipulative Combination – a shadowy organisation that has some seriously dastardly plans in mind for the innocent folk of London (and the wider world).  We first came across the first book in the series in early 2014 and reviewed it at the time.  For those who missed it, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Meet Knightley and Son – two great detectives for the price of one …

Darkus Knightley is not your average thirteen-year-old: ferociously logical, super-smart and with a fondness for tweed, detective work is in his blood. His dad Alan Knightley was London’s top private investigator and an expert in crimes too strange for Scotland Yard to handle, but four years ago the unexplained finally caught up with him – and he fell into a mysterious coma. Darkus is determined to follow in his father’s footsteps and find out what really happened. But when Alan suddenly wakes up, his memory is wonky and he needs help. The game is afoot for Knightley & Son – with a mystery that gets weirder by the minute, a bestselling book that makes its readers commit terrible crimes, and a sinister organisation known as the Combination …

A funny, warm, fantastical crime caper with an unlikely hero and a brilliant comic cast, perfect for fans of Sherlock and criminally good storytelling.

Knightley and Son 1

If you’re wondering why that cover doesn’t look at all familiar, considering we have featured this book on the blog before, that’s probably because the original cover looked more like this:

k & s…which is also quite alluring.  If you want to wade into the thoughts of the shelf circa January 2014, my entire review of the book can be found here.  For those of you who ain’t got no time for that, the essence of my feelings on the book can be summarised in this handy quote from the review:

“I found pretty much all of the characters in this book to be fairly two-dimensional which distracted me from the story.  I couldn’t go along with the more fantastical elements of the plot because I didn’t even believe the ordinary people, doing ordinary things, were authentic.  Going hand in hand with the flat characters was the unfolding of the plot in a whole host of pat and convenient ways.  Things just seemed to work out too simply for my tastes.  I didn’t feel that there were enough major setbacks for the characters to overcome, as solutions to problems seemed to conveniently pop up just when they were needed in ways that didn’t require the characters to struggle particularly hard.  Given the complicated nature of the actual crime that was being investigated, once again, things just didn’t ring true.”

Ouch! Looking back on things now, having read the next two in the series, this criticism was probably a little bit harsh.  There were a few elements of the book that didn’t work for me as a reader, but overall the book was an “okay” read.  After finishing this one, I actually noted that:

I will see the next book in the series, with its no-doubt eye-popping cover art, and will be reminded of the disappoint-ivity that blossomed into great blossoming clouds as I delved deeper into this book. Sigh.

So melodramatic, Bruce-of-the-past!! But I did promise myself that I was not going to pursue this series any further….UNTIL shiny new paperback copies were thrust under my prominent nose.  And it would be plain rude not to have a crack at free books, if someone went to the trouble of sending them.

The good news is that….I didn’t hate the next two books!

Here’s the blurb for book two, K-9, from Goodreads:

Darkus Knightley – tweed-wearing, mega-brained, thoroughly logical 13-year-old investigator of the weird – was just getting used to having his dad back in his life. Then Alan Knightley went off-radar, again, leaving Darkus with a traumatised ex-bomb-disposal dog as his only partner in crime-solving.

Now things are getting even stranger. Family pets are being savaged by a beast at a top London beauty spot. Policemen have been tracked and attacked by a particularly aggressive canine. And two curiously alert hounds seem to be watching Darkus’s house. No one is using the word werewolf – yet – but as the full moon approaches, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work out that someone or something sinister is messing with the minds of London’s dog population. A mysterious canine conspiracy is howling for the attention of Knightley & Son …

Criminally good detective adventure, perfect for fans of Sherlock and sharp-minded sleuths of all shapes and sizes …

k-9

Out of all three books, I enjoyed this one the most.  The story was just complicated enough to be interesting, without having twists that were too complex or unbelievable for the age group.  The characters – particularly Uncle Bill – were generally less annoying to me (although I will make an exception for Clive, who seems to be trying for the “Most Annoying Character Ever Penned” award), and I really liked the inclusion of Wilbur, the ex-war dog.  We get to find out a little more about each of the characters here, and I particularly enjoyed seeing another side of Darkus, which is developed through his work with Wilbur.  Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable and engaging read, despite the fact that my favourite character, Tilly, was missing from the plot for a good deal of the book.  The ending left a question mark over the detective agency’s continuation and generally, the two-dimensionality that so irked me in the first book seemed to be slowly oozing away.  Essentially, while I didn’t love it to bits and some characters were still giving me the irits, K-9’s focused plot seemed like an improvement over book one.

On then, to Three of a Kind.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Who will hold the winning hand? Sherlock meets Ocean’s Eleven in this wickedly funny, action-packed crime caper.

Darkus Knightley is used to expecting the unexpected. An extraordinary solver of crimes, with immense powers of deduction, and regularly found bedecked in tweed, Darkus is anything but the average 13-year-old. But he is the person to call when strange goings-on are afoot!

Despite trying to leave his detective ways behind to lead a normal teenage life, when his father’s loyal housekeeper, Bogna, goes missing, Darkus must return to the family fold and follow the clues to America and the bright lights of Las Vegas. Alongside his father, Alan, and stepsister, Tilly, Darkus must once again face the deadly criminal organisation the Combination – and this time, all bets are off. With danger at every turn, Knightley and Son will need an ace or two up their sleeves in order to win this game. Will the odds be in our detective duo’s favour? Or will this be the Knightleys’ final roll of the dice?

Perfect for fans of Sherlock, this thrilling crime adventure will keep you on the edge of your seats.

three of a kind

Three of a Kind took on a “road trip” format, with Darkus, Tilly and Alan jetting off to the USA in pursuit of housekeeper Bogna, who it appears has been kidnapped by the Combination in order to force the Knightley’s into some bizarre kind of game.  Excepting Clive, who I would be quite happy to whack in the face with a brick, the characters  hardly irritated me at all throughout this book.  Win! The road trip element was also an interesting touch, with some of the places visited – Survival Town, particularly – laden with the potential for imaginative exploration.  Unfortunately, not a lot of time was devoted to each place – the Knightley’s are on a time-sensitive chase, after all – but again, the plot seemed quite focused and featured enough variety in setting to keep the reader on their toes.  I was quite impressed with the action-packed, firecracker ending of this one, and was a bit sorry that the same level of adventure couldn’t have come into the story earlier.  We also get to find out more about Tilly’s mother in this one, with some quite shocking secrets revealed that cause Tilly no end of identity-crises.

The biggest problem that I have with these books is that there isn’t enough suspense woven into the story to keep me turning the pages.  I feel like the foundations are all there to have a brilliant series of books, but the actual stories are lacking in atmosphere.  Perhaps the amount of attention that has gone into creating quirky characters (and every character in these books has at least one obvious quirk) has been at the expense of developing a pervading sense of menace and danger in the plot.

I suspect that if I was a typical reader – ie: not a reader who chews through 100+ books a year just on this blog – and was wandering in a library or bookshop, I might well think, “Oh look, the next Knightley and Son! Why yes, I’ll have that!”  But as things stand, I want more from this series to really be satisfied.

Until next time,

Bruce