Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Lint Boy

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Today’s graphic novel pick is a bit of a hybrid for fans of fables and weird creatures.  We received Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten from the publisher via Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Lint Boy and Lint Bear live in their cozy dryer home, carefree and happy—until the day Lint Bear is snatched away by a cruel woman with a vendetta against dolls! Can Lint Boy unite a group of lost dolls to vanquish the villain and save his brother?This magical story is showcased in the stunning full-color art of this young graphic novel. A gently gothic, age-appropriate blend of Roald Dahl and Tim Burton, Lint Boy is a compelling tale of good vs. evil that will leave readers spellbound.

lint boy

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade

Genre:

Fable

Art Style:

Quirky, gothic

Reading time:

About twenty minutes in one sitting

Let’s get gabbing:

Lint Boy and Lint Bear are born from the remnants of lint floating in the dryer. When Lint Bear goes missing, Lint Boy must venture forth from the dryer in search of his best and only friend – but will he be prepared for the wickedness in the world outside the whitegoods?

This book felt like something different right from the very first page.  The setting – the inside of a clothes dryer – and the protagonists – creatures made from discarded lint – are not the most obvious candidates for middle grade fare, so straight off the bat there was some originality apparent in the story.  The format of the book is similarly different from the usual.  The narrative style is fable-like and combines small blocks of text with graphic novel style dialogue and illustrative panels.  The book is divided into chapters but these chapters are largely driven by imagery rather than text.

The story is simple enough – after Lint Boy and Lint Bear vacate the dryer it becomes apparent that they are in danger from the particularly nasty owner of the house.  The reader is given some backstory as to who this woman might be and what her motivations are for being such an unpleasant (and downright torturous) individual.  Throughout the story, Lint Boy and Lint Bear are given opportunities to break out of their everyday roles and become leaders to a band of lost and cowed toys.  The story is all wrapped up in this single volume which makes it a good choice for when you are looking for an original, interesting fantasy tale but don’t want to commit to a series.

There was definitely something missing in my reading experience of Lint Boy and I think that something was production values.  The story reminded me strongly of Ollie’s Odyssey by William Joyce, a similar beautifully illustrated story about a missing toy and a bully with a tortured past, but with much greater attention to presentation and the overall feel of the book.

While the illustrations in Lint Boy are gorgeous, the formatting of the text and dialogue – and particularly the font – didn’t quite fit the gothic style of the pictures.  This may be an “uncorrected proof” issue and might be different in the final version of the book, but as it is, the mismatch of hand-drawn illustrations and computer-generated font didn’t work for me.

Similarly, I felt that the book, while a solid read, couldn’t quite decide whether it was going to be a novel or a graphic novel and so the story suffered a little in being too sparse in parts and over-explained in others.  Personally, I would have liked to have seen Lint Boy’s story fleshed out a little more and lengthened into a middle grade novel, without sacrificing the excellent illustrations.  Alternately, getting rid of the blocks of text and making the tale a full graphic novel would have worked equally well to rid the tome of its “not one thing or another” feel.

Overall snapshot:

If the quality and depth of the story had matched the quality of the illustrations in this tome, I think I would have had to nominate this one as a Top Book of 2017 pick.  As it is, it’s still a quirky and original tale with beguiling illustrations and characters, but I was hoping for a meatier reading experience here.

I’m nominating Lint Boy for my Popsugar Reading Challenge in category #30: A book with pictures.  You can check out my progress toward all my reading challenges for 2017 here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Challenge Checkpoint #2: Halfway Through 2017

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It’s halfway through the year already (*insert cliched statement about how time flies and where did the year go here*) and therefore it is time to review where I’m at with my various reading challenges.  Let’s have at it!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017 – COMPLETE!

Hurrah! I signed on at Pike’s Peak level – or twelve books – for this challenge this year and I am happy to say that I have now scaled to those dizzying heights!  You can check out the books I read here.

however…

since some of the books on the list are a little thin and I haven’t yet got through all the books I wanted to finish for this challenge when I signed on, I’m going to extend my goal and try for Mount Blanc level – 24 books by the end of the year.  This *should* be manageable, but I’ll have to really focus on getting those books read.

Epistolary Challenge – Progress Made!

10 Epistolary Books To Add To Your Winter Reading List

I feel like I’ve made some progress on this one in the last few months.  I’ve also acquired some epistolary novels in print copy or as review copies on Netgalley so I think this challenge is looking up. There’s no end goal or number of books to have read for this challenge, so I’m just seeing how I go at the moment.

Colour Coded Challenge – One Category to Go!

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This was never going to be a challenge that I failed, but I’m well ahead of schedule here.  I’ve only got the final category to go – a book with a pattern or rainbow on the cover – to complete the challenge, but I might extend myself and try to find more to fit the “any other colour” category.

Popsugar Challenge – Charging Ahead!

I’ve managed eighteen out of the 52 categories for this one and I’ve tried to really focus on this challenge in the last three months.  There are a few categories that I could really fit most of my books into (eg: a book published in 2017) and some that I can’t imagine I’m going to get done (eg: a book that’s more than 800 pages).  The trickiest part about this challenge is remembering to refer back to the categories each time I read a book.  Perhaps I should print out the categories now I have printer ink…..

Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge – stalled

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I’ve read one book to contribute to this challenge since the last update.  That means I’ve got three categories to go.  Doable.  Again, I just have to keep the categories in mind as I’m reading.

Have you signed up for any reading challenges this year?  How are you going?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Meandering through Middle Grade: D-Bot Squad!

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It’s time for a change from my usual middle grade fare as today I will be bringing you the first four books in a new series for reluctant male readers.  We received D-Bot 

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Squad books one to four by Mac Park – author of the prolific and popular Boy Vs. Beast series – from Allen & Unwin for review.  Check out the blurb below:

A super-exciting series about DINOSAUR ROBOTS for first readers…

from the creators of the bestselling Boy vs Beast series. A world kids will love, using words they can read.

Dinosaurs are back, and on the loose!

It’s up to D-Bot Squad to catch them.

Hunter Marks knows everything there is to know about dinosaurs. But does he know enough to pass the computer game test and make it into top-secret D-Bot Squad?

*The first four books in the D-Bot Squad series will be released in July, with the remaining four books released in October 2017 and February 2018*

I’m going to be straight up honest here and say that series like this usually have me running in the opposite direction.  You know the ones.  The Zac Power and  Fairy Magic type series that seem to have a never-ending procession of books all with exactly the same formulaic story.  I know they’re designed to get kids reading.  I know they’re aimed at kids who are gaining confidence in reading independently.  But as a reader, they give me the shivers.

The eldest mini-fleshling in the dwelling however, who is six and in grade one, was immediately drawn to these books and he doesn’t even particularly like dinosaurs.  From the second the first chapter of Dino Hunter was read aloud to him, he was absolutely hooked.  He wanted to tell his friends about the books.  He wanted to bring the books to school so his teacher could read them.  He continues to be riveted by the stories and we are now onto Double Trouble, the third book in the series.

The plot is simple enough.  Hunter Marks loves dinosaurs but finds himself a bit on the outer as all his classmates prefer superheroes.  While working on a project in the library, he is shown a dinosaur cave display built by the librarian Ms Stegg, and Hunter’s adventure begins.  Drawn into a test by the D-Bot Squad, Hunter must design a robot to catch a pterodactyl that is on the loose, thereby earning his place in the Squad.  From this follows a range of adventures that see Hunter designing robots using his specialist knowledge of dinosaurs, to catch errant dinosaurs that are on the loose in present-day locations.

The books are cleverly designed to be non-intimidating to reluctant and new readers, so there are full page pictures every few pages and no more than 55 words on each page.  There is also some great continuity happening in each story.  Each book has six chapters (which the mini-fleshling somehow figured out by the start of book two) and each book finishes on a cliff-hanger that leads into the next story.  This may be a bit of a problem in that it might be more difficult to read the books out of order, but it drew the mini-fleshling in like nobody’s business and he could barely wait for the next bedtime so we could get cracking on the next book.

Each book also has one of those page-flipping animations in the top right hand page corner, that when flipped, animates a dinosaur.  The first two books featured pterodactyls – appropriately enough to the stories – that flap their wings as the pages are flipped.  The mini-fleshling had never seen these before and thought they were genius.

The best thing about the books for me was that the claim on the back of the book was actually correct.  The book features a sticker that shouts, “A world kids will love with words they can read!”  I’ve already noted that the mini-fleshling loves the world of the books, despite not being a particular fan of dinosaurs.  What about the second part of the claim? Can a six year old grade one student read these words?

Yes, He. Can.

At halfway through grade one, this mini-fleshling has mastered his Magic 300 sight words (or is it 200?).  He’s learnt all the sight words he needs to know for the year, anyhow.  And he is certainly able to read most of the words in these books with a little support.  This is an amazing revelation to me because it opens up more options for him for his own independent reading.  He need not be solely reliant on picture books anymore, but can develop his confidence on longer early chapter books with stories that he is interested in.

What a boon!

If you, or your mini-fleshling, is looking for a new series of books that really are accessible for younger kids and interesting for independent readers, I’d recommend giving D-Bot Squad a go.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Bruce’s Shelfies: Christmas in (Almost) July!

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It’s never too early to start thinking about Christmas, so today I am going to provide you with a round up of titles that I have my eye on for the second half of the year….you know, in case any of you feel like getting a little present for your friendly neighbourhood gargoyle.  These are books that I would love to get my grubby little claws upon had I a tad more disposable income and a bit more space on the TBR shelf.

First up of course is the hardback, illustrated, large format edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I managed to pick up a second hand copy of this edition of Philosopher’s Stone at a suitcase rummage late last year for $18.  BARGAIN!  Then I may or may not have recently splurged on this edition of Chamber of Secrets.  And in the same transaction I may or may not have ordered the hardback, 20th anniversary Ravenclaw House edition of Philosopher’s Stone.  And while we’re being honest, I may or may not have already actually put this edition of Prisoner of Azkaban on pre-order.  Because it’s releasing in October and you know, I wouldn’t want to be unprepared for Christmas or anything.  I regret nothing.

Next up is Penguin Bloom: The Odd Little Bird Who Saved A Family…

penguin bloom

I actually had plenty of opportunity to receive a review copy of this one back when it was released but at the time I thought it wasn’t really my thing.  Since then, the dwelling has had its own family of extremely friendly magpies come visiting on a regular basis and all of a sudden I desperately want to read this book.  The magpie in this one seems much more tame than even the highly trusting and relaxed birds that come almost into our kitchen when they visit, so I’m interested to read more about her.

Then there’s this atmospheric and creepy little number…

white is for witching

I can never go past a haunted house tale and White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi looks particularly enticing.

And then there’s Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw…

strange practice

I want this one so much I nearly pre-ordered it last week.  It’s got Helsings, a doctor to the undead, murderous monks and a murder mystery all in one.  How could I pass it up?

Then there’s Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans…

wed wabbit

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Lissa Evan’s other books and this one looks like a bit of a change of pace.  The blurb sounds a bit subversive to me and I’m intrigued by that scary wabbit shadow on the cover.

Then there’s the Cool Japan Guide by Abby Denson…

cool japan guide

It’s a graphic novel travel guide!!  I haven’t given up on my dream of visiting Japan and following in Mad Martha’s footsteps, despite financial impossibilities and the difficulties of getting stone on a plane and I think this book would be the perfect inspirational tome.

Then of course there’s Ben Hatke’s entire back catalouge…

mighty jack and the goblin king

But I’d settle for Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, being the second in the Mighty Jack graphic novel series.  I reviewed the first one earlier this year and I am itching to get my teeth into this next installment.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start for Santa, don’t you think?  What about you?  What books are on your Christmas list for 2017?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Picture Book Perusal: The Secret of Black Rock

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Today’s book is full of adventure and secrets, danger and hope and as such is the perfect winter read to snuggle up with.  We received The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton for review from Walker Books Australia and here’s the blurb form Goodreads:

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Erin loves to lie on the jetty, looking for the weirdest fish in the sea—the weirder, the better! And she knows the best ones must be further out, where her mum won’t let her go . . .

Out there in the deepest sea lies the Black Rock: a huge, dark and spiky mass that is said to destroy any boats that come near it! Can Erin uncover the truth behind this mysterious legend?

The Secret of Black Rock is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, from its glowing golden endpapers to the layered blues and greens of the deep sea.  It reminded us strongly of another 2017 picture book release, Grandad’s Secret Giant by David Litchfield, due to similar themes of not judging a book by its cover and the need to preserve, protect and learn about the things we don’t understand.

The story opens with various characters recounting the horrors of Black Rock, a rock formation close to a coastal fishing village that has a reputation for destruction and danger.  Erin, however, is not afraid and will employ all her cunning and sneakiness to stow away on her mother’s fishing boat to catch sight of the Rock, despite its fearsome personification in the eyes of the villagers.  When Erin is accidentally thrown overboard, she discovers the Rock’s secret and attempts to reveal this to the villagers – but they misinterpret her message and set out to destroy the Rock once and for all.

The illustrations here are so atmospheric, with the contrast between the warmth of home and the cold, roiling mass of the sea reinforcing the dangers of venturing too far from the safety of the shore.  When readers finally catch a glimpse of Black Rock they won’t be able to avoid feeling that the poor old rock has been a bit hard done by the fisherfolk, and will be hoping for a positive resolution to the story.  The mini-fleshlings in this dwelling also had a great time spotting all the different sea life that is depicted making their homes around the rock.

This story would be a great conversation starter in the classroom around issues of gossip and the negative effects that can come from judging without full knowledge of the situation.  Similarly, it would be the perfect choice for a bedtime read aloud on a cold and windy night, when the nature’s perilous side can feel all too real.  We Shelf-dwellers think it’s a winner.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Life in Death: Timely, Absorbing and Not for the Faint of Heart (or Stomach)…

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a life in death

Call me a ghoul if you like (a gar-ghoul?) but I have come, late in life, to a deep and abiding interest in the work of those who are employed in the field of death management. I just made that term up, but you get the idea.  Funerary workers, forensic pathologists, police – it doesn’t matter who, particularly, but I find the work they do fascinating and I find it helps a bit with acknowledging my own – and everyone else’s – mortality. A Life in Death by Richard Venables, which we received from the publisher via Netgalley for review, deals with a specific subset of post-death work; Disaster Victim Identification, or the recovery and reunification of a deceased victim of a natural or human-caused disaster with the victim’s next of kin.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Detective Inspector Richard Venables (QPM, rtd.) has helped identify thousands of bodies all over the world, piecing together fragments from tsunamis, transport and other disasters to return the victims to their loved ones.

A world-renowned expert in Disaster Victim Identification who was a member of the UK Police’s Major Disaster Advisory Team, Richard’s destiny was shaped in part by his presence as a uniformed sergeant at the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster.

In A Life in Death, Richard tells his extraordinary story, of how death came to be a key feature of his personal as well as professional life, as well as how he coped with the biggest challenge of his life: the 2004 Asian Tsunami, the deadliest event of its kind ever experienced by human civilization, claiming 230,000 lives.

Upon his retirement from the Police in 2006, Richard was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in recognition of his distinguished service. In A Life in Death, Richard takes us behind the scenes of extraordinary events, explaining with compassion and searing honesty the absolute necessity of his work, his life’s passion.

As well as being an accessible and fascinating read, A Life in Death is, sadly, a particularly timely piece of work.  Reading this, as I did, just a day after the terribly tragic Grenfell Tower fire in London and a mere few weeks after terrorist incidents in Manchester and London, really brought home the importance of the work that Venables and his ilk complete, off-putting though it may be to think about.  In this tome, retired DI Richard Venables recounts his work in the police force in Disaster Victim Identification, from its early days in the 1980s, when those tasked with the recovery and identification of victims were often required to fly by the seat of their pants, so to speak, to the very recent past, by which time procedures had been created to ensure dignity for victims and their loved ones and the minimisation of mistaken identifications and psychological harm.

In case you should blithely stroll into this reading experience somehow unaware of what might lay within, this book graphically discusses corpses.  And not just corpses – putrefecation, body parts separated from their owners, untimely and violent death, mass casualty events of the recent past, the raw grief of victims’ families and the psychological scars that can come from working with death for a prolonged period.  So there you are.  You’ve been warned.

Having said that, it also deals with these topics in a respectful, non-gratuitous and dignified fashion.  I appreciated the tone of the work, and much like Judy Melinek’s excellent Working Stiff,  being the memoir of a forensic pathologist up to and including the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, the honest approach of the book allows the reader to absorb the technical information, feel moved by the human aspect of the work, yet never feel overwhelmed by the tragic nature of the cases being discussed.  Venables frequently notes the difficulties that people who work with death can experience psychologically and champions the importance of workplaces providing support and appropriate assistance.  Throughout the book it is also interesting to note ways in which this need for support has been written in to professional procedure, to ensure that workers receive that which they need.

Some of the unique problems discussed throughout the book include the difficulties with securing a scene or scenes immediately after a mass casualty event and the specific problems faced by those – be they emergency service workers or innocent bystanders – who arrive on the scene first.  You will be stunned, I’m sure, as I was, by the completely preventable causes of some of the incidents and the unimaginable horror that one person’s error or negligence can create. Similarly, the book touches on the thoroughness of the victim identification process and why this can cause upset for families of victims, due to delays that prevent families from having the death of their loved one confirmed.

Venables does a magnificent job of hitting the appropriate tone with a difficult and somewhat unpalatable topic.  While never resorting to outright humour or jollity, he nevertheless acknowledges the odd juxtapositions that occur within his line of work.  That while he loves his work and wants desperately to learn, practice his skills and improve the practice of disaster victim identification generally, to accomplish this requires mutliple people to die in unexpected and violent fashion with some regularity, for instance.  Similarly, he recounts a situation in which he believed that he was about to die a remarkably ironic death in a plane crash, thereby becoming one of the victims requiring recovery and identification that he had always worked with.

I was so absorbed by this book and found it such an easy read that I knocked it over in two days.  Since I was reading it amid reports of the Grenfell Tower fire, it was a bit of a surreal experience, but by the end I took some comfort in the fact that at the very least, the families and friends of those people who lost their lives in what will no doubt turn out to be an easily preventable tragedy, can be assured that the identification of the victims will be carried out with professionalism, in a way that respects the dignity of each individual, in spite of the shocking manner of their deaths.

Clearly, this book won’t be for everyone but if you have an interest in emergency response and the workings of the post-life industry in its various roles, you might consider giving this a go.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

A Quirky Take on Parental Frailty: Goodbye, Vitamin…

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I’ve read quite a number of books featuring characters with Alzheimer’s or dementia in my time, but I’ve never come across one quite like Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong.  We received a copy of this one from Simon & Schuster for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Ruth is thirty and her life is falling apart: she and her fiancé are moving house, but he’s moving out to live with another woman; her career is going nowhere; and then she learns that her father, a history professor beloved by his students, has Alzheimer’s. At Christmas, her mother begs her to stay on and help. For a year.

Goodbye, Vitamin is the wry, beautifully observed story of a woman at a crossroads, as Ruth and her friends attempt to shore up her father’s career; she and her mother obsess over the ambiguous health benefits – in the absence of a cure – of dried jellyfish supplements and vitamin pills; and they all try to forge a new relationship with the brilliant, childlike, irascible man her father has become.

Most books about Alzheimer’s that I’ve come across tend to feature, at some point during the story, a scene or scenes that really bring home to the reader the harrowing disease that Alzheimer’s is – the way it erases the personality and memories of an individual and shatters the familiar ways in which family and friends have connected with the sufferer throughout their lifetime.

Goodbye, Vitamin is nothing like that.

In fact, Goodbye, Vitamin forgoes the inevitable destruction of the human brain and any relationships in which said brain was involved, and instead focuses on the ways in which Ruth, chaotic and underachieving daughter of an Alzheimer’s-afflicted father, tries to adjust to a life put on hold, while she helps out her mother for “just a year”.

I must admit, it was quite refreshing to read a book featuring a character with Alzheimer’s and not come away feeling angsty and unsettled at the prospect of literally having one’s mind slowly eroded from within.

The book is written in a sort of diary format, as Ruth recounts events in chronological order during her year back at home.  I generally find diary-type books engaging and so it was in this case.  I tend to enjoy that the sections can be quite short and so I feel like I’m getting somewhere with the book quickly.  Having said that, this isn’t an overly hefty read and things move along apace from the moment Ruth decides to give it a year until the poignant but hopeful ending.

Ruth has a dry and self-deprecating sense of humour and manages to reminisce on both her broken past relationship and her childhood relationship with her father without being particularly maudlin, but highlighting the weirdness that we accept as everday life.  Her father’s ex-students play a surprising and uplifting role in attempting to halt her father’s decline and I had a bit of chuckle at their cloak and dagger antics as well as their finding new excuses to take their “classes” off campus.

As much as this is a story about the decline of a family member and a change in the parent-child relationship, it is also a story about the chaos of early adulthood – yes, even up to one’s thirties!  Ruth is in as much a period of flux as her father as she tries to forget past mistakes and forge a new path in her career and life in general.

I would recommend Goodbye, Vitamin if you are looking for a convivial tale about an unwanted mental guest and the ways in which people choose to remember.

Until next time,

Bruce