Meandering Through Middle Grade: The Blue Cat…

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meandering-through-middle-grade

It’s another book set in World War 2 today, this time set in Australia (and I’ve got ANOTHER World War 2 story for you next week – it must be something in the air), and this time aimed at a middle grade audience.  We received The Blue Cat by prolific Australian author Ursula Dubosarsky from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A boy stood in the playground under the big fig tree. ‘He can’t speak English,’ the children whispered.

Sydney, 1942. The war is coming to Australia – not only with the threat of bombardment, but also the arrival of refugees from Europe. Dreamy Columba’s world is growing larger. She is drawn to Ellery, the little boy from far away, and, together with her highly practical best friend Hilda, the three children embark on an adventure through the harbour-side streets – a journey of discovery and terror, in pursuit of the mysterious blue cat …

the blue cat

The Blue Cat is told from the point of view of Columba, a young girl whose world is slowly being encroached upon by the war.  Everything that her headmaster assures the children could never possibly happen, seems to be coming about.  Her friend’s brothers are stuck as prisoners of war.  Air raid sirens interrupt otherwise lazy afternoons.  The spectre of lost mothers and lost homes looms large in the figure of Ellery, a German boy who has come to attend Columba’s school.

There is certainly an atmosphere of anticipation seeping through this novel and I was constantly poised for some significant action to take place.  Rather, the story unfolds gently through Columba’s interactions with her brash, larger-than-life friend Hilda and the silent Ellery.

Atmospheric as Dubosarsky’s writing may be, I couldn’t help but feel there was something missing from this book.  The first candidate for the MIA label is the titular cat – he makes the briefest of brief appearances and doesn’t seem, as the blurb suggests, to be keeping any secrets at all. Rather, he seems to be acting like an ordinary cat: flighty, unpredictable and completely indifferent as to whether humans pay attention to him or not.

The second thing I felt that was missing here was some significant event to provide a point around which Columba or one of the other characters could experience some growth or change or…something.  Columba, as a narrator, is more of a bystander than an agent in her own life and while there are plenty of us who live through certain historical events without having them touch us in a significant way, I’m not sure that this perspective is the most effective upon which to base a protagonist.

One thing I did love about the book was the inclusion of primary source materials.  Instead of illustrations, every few pages a newspaper article, photograph or advertisement from the time pops up and I found these far more interesting and engaging than the actual story.  I also adored the poem by Friedrich Ruckert that was included (with a translation from the original German) as an afterword.

As I mentioned before, I spent the whole book waiting for something to happen and then…it just finished.  There is a certain amount of pathos in Columba’s growing understanding of loss and change, but I’m not sure that young readers would necessarily pick up on the subtleties of this.  I finished the book not hating it, but wondering why I had bothered, because none of the characters seemed to have undergone any significant change in outlook or personality by the end of the story.  It just felt like a way of passing the time.

I’m going to submit this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge under category #10, a book with a cat on the cover.  You can check out my progress toward the challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Adult Fiction Review: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day…

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dusk-or-dark-or-dawn-or-day

Today’s book is an original ghostly tale that delves into the question, “if your afterlife was spent stuck on Earth, how would you spend it?”  The characters in this story answer that question in a range of ways that you might not expect.  We received a copy of Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire from the publisher via Netgalley, and I will be submitting it for the Colour-Coded Reading Challenge 2017 and the PopSugar Reading Challenge, under the category of a book from a non-human perspective.  You can check out my progress toward my challenges here.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Considering that, at its heart, Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a ghost story, there is a significant amount of philosophising about the nature of life and the meaning of atonement in this book.

This is not a bad thing.

In fact, it gives what could have been a basic urban fantasy (or urban paranormal, possibly) story a deeper element on which to ponder.

I found Jenna to be an immediately likable narrator.  Having accidentally met her own death while grieving after the suicide of her older sister, Jenna spends her afterlife working on a volunteer suicide prevention hotline in order to avoid other families having to experience the death of a loved one by their own hand.  In doing so, Jenna is “earning” her way towards her final death – the day on which she was intended to die, had she not run out into a lightning storm and been prematurely frazzled.

The early parts of the book are heavy with world-building, because the author has set up specific rules regarding the type of person who can become a ghost, what ghosts can affect in the living world and why some ghosts have been around longer than others.  In fact, the bulk of the story involves Jenna finding out more about the laws that govern her afterlife, as ghosts start disappearing and her semi-comfortable existence begins to crumble.  For those who like a fantasy twist in their paranormal, McGuire’s world also includes witches (who can be male or female), whose powers link them to a particular object, be it organic or built, and shape how that power might be wielded.

The characters are the strong suit of this particular story, with Jenna ably accompanied by Delia, an elderly ghost who provides cheap housing for both living and dead tenants, Sophie, a homeless young woman with an affinity for rodents, and Brenda, a corn witch who has made Manhattan her home.  This is definitely as much a story of relationships and social connections as it is a ghost story.

After all the build up and time spent developing the afterlife concept at the beginning of the book, the resolution came along quite quickly and was all tied up in record time, which surprised me a little.  Having said that, I was quite satisfied with the pace of the final chapters because there is nothing worse than having a book drag out the denouement when there is no need to do so.  There is plenty of action and some unexpected reveals regarding who is behind the ghostly disappearances that I certainly didn’t see coming and by the end of the book, Jenna comes to terms with her misplaced guilt regarding her role in her sister’s death.

While I didn’t find this to be an absolutely stellar read, it was certainly original and had a tone that will appeal to those who enjoy books about female and family relationships, as much as those who enjoy paranormal and fantasy stories.

Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal: Cat Knit

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picture book perusal button

If you love delightful tales of friendship, cattiness and yarn then today is your lucky day!  Allow us to happily present to you new release picture book Cat Knit by Jacob Grant, and provided to us by PanMacmillan Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Cat and Yarn are the best of friends. They have so much fun playing together, the two are inseparable.

Until the day Girl takes Yarn away.

When Yarn Returns, he is completely changed, no longer Cat’s bright and rolly friend. Cat is mad!

Soon, Cat begins to miss his best friend, and he just might realize that a little change isn’t so bad after all.

cat-knit

It’s no secret that we are big fans of yarn and its related fibre-crafted products around the shelf, and when yarn is combined with a cute, grumpy-faced cat that looks a little like one of the cats in the dwelling, you can be sure that we will be big fans of the result.  Here’s a little side by side pic for comparison about our prior claim:

cat-knit-comparison

Twinnies, or what?!

Cat, unsurprisingly, is friends with Yarn.  They play together in all sorts of hilarious ways (read: sledding), they snuggle up together and are generally as happy as a cat and an inanimate object could be.  When Girl takes yarn away and returns him completely changed however, Cat isn’t in love with the arrangement.  What follows is a struggle between wanting things back the way they were and finding good use for yarn’s new form and function.  But it isn’t all bad.  After all, where there’s one ball of yarn, there might be more!

This book was a lot of fun and the mini-fleshlings particularly enjoyed the various moods of Cat, played out via his facial expressions.  I particularly liked the machinations of Girl, which are known in the wider world as “knitting”, and was quite comforted by the fact that clearly Mad Martha isn’t the only one who pores over yarn catalogues with such undivided attention.  The ending is a great laugh, featuring more in the way of catty expressions of displeasure, and a very nifty bobble hat indeed.  The overall message of the book is that a change in the personality of one’s friend need not mean the end of a friendship, and that such changes can be just what is needed at that point in time.

The edition of the book that we received came with a dust jacket featuring the image above, and as we are incurable dust-jacket removers, we were able to uncover the delightful design on the hardback cover.

cat-knit-undies

I will admit to having a yearning to own an ugly Christmas jumper, probably due to the fact that I will never have the opportunity to wear one unless I move to a shelf in the Northern Hemisphere for at least one Christmas, so this design tickled me pink.

I would recommend Cat Knit to anyone who (a) has a cat or (b) is able to laugh at cats, which, let’s admit it, is every human alive.  Having received the thumbs up of approval from the mini-fleshlings in this dwelling, I can also say that it has passed the giggle road test for reading aloud to little ones.  It’s even inspired me to ask Mad Martha to crochet me an ugly Christmas jumper of my own…which I will then attempt to force onto the cat (pictured above).

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

 

 

Thank Goodness it’s TBR Friday!

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TBR Friday

I’ve got a gently odd little offering for today’s climb up Mount TBR.  It’s adult fiction (memoir?) The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide and translated by Eric Selland.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another.

One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife; they go walking together, talk and share stories of the cat and its little ways, play in the nearby Garden. But then something happens that will change everything again.

The Guest Cat is an exceptionally moving and beautiful novel about the nature of life and the way it feels to live it. Written by Japanese poet and novelist Takashi Hiraide, the book won Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, and was a bestseller in France and America.

the guest cat

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Probably about a year?  I can’t say exactly as I didn’t buy this one myself.

Acquired:

Received as a birthday gift

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

It’s a very slim tome, so of course I put it off under the logic that as it’s so thin I could pick it up and knock it over anytime.  Also, the sensible, grown up, adultness of the subject matter had me a tiny bit intimidated, even though I asked someone to buy this for me because I wanted to read it.

Best Bits:

  • It’s rare to find such a gentle story in which the content is so limited, yet still engaging: this is literally a man reflecting on his life with his wife and the next-door neighbour’s cat.  I don’t think there’s any massive, deep analogy that I’m missing.  It’s a pretty straightforward reflection on life, relationships and loss. And the habits of cats.
  • The writing is … sublime seems too committed a word, but  maybe majestic could be a good way to describe it.  Majestic without being arrogant.  Rapturous but at the same time, quotidian.  There’s an elevation to the writing which makes the ordinary events being described feel like something important.
  • The book is slim and can be read quite quickly.  Alternatively, the content works well for just taking things a chapter at a time due to the lack of exciting action.
  • If you have a particularly deep love for felines, you will probably delight in the detailed descriptions of the cat’s cute idiosyncracies.
  • There is a section at the back with some notes that give context to some of the events that might be missed or misinterpreted by non-Japanese readers.  I found this quite helpful in re-examining a particular event toward the end.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • The print in this edition is teeny-weeny.
  • Without spoiling the events of the book for you, by the end of the book, the man and his wife seemed a little too attached to the cat to the point that it was interfering with their ability to move on.  Literally move on, since they move house.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Considering it wasn’t my money that paid for it, yes.  Particularly since it isn’t at all my usual type of read, and therefore it is unlikely that I would ever have bought it for myself.

Where to now for this tome?

I will probably pass it on to someone who will enjoy it. Or possibly sell it at a Suitcase Rummage.

This is another chink off the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block.

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce

A Duet of Quirky Animal Cuteness: Basket Cat and Dog House…

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picture book perusal button

It’s time to focus in on picture books again and today I have a delightful pair of companion board books from UK illustrator Katie Abey, provided to us by Five Mile Press.  In her own words, Abey admits to filling her work with “puns and crazy animals” – check out her website…it’s puntastic! – and her cheeky, bright appealing illustrations are what prompted us to request today’s titles for perusal – Basket Cat and Dog House.  The two books feature separate stories, but will look like peas in a complimentary pobasket catd on your shelf.

Here is the blurb for Basket Cat from Goodreads:

Basket Cat loves baskets – big baskets and small baskets, tall baskets and even the washing basket! But all Basket Cat wants is a basket of her very own.
Where will she find one?

With a humorous story and amusing artwork this large board book will be enjoyed by children and adults alike!

dog houseAnd here’s what Goodreads has to say about Dog House:


Toby is lost. He knows his dog house is around here somewhere, but he can’t seem to remember where to find it!

Will Toby ever find his way home?

We were immediately drawn to the bold colours of the front covers and the adorably quizzical looks of the animal protagonists and I suspect these features will appeal enormously to the little people at whom these books are pitched.  The younger mini-fleshling demanded the reading of the pair as soon as she laid eyes on them and after due consideration, pronounced Basket Cat her favourite of the two.  This could be because we share the dwelling with a cat of similar features to Basket Cat, while the dog of the dwelling bears little resemblance to the protagonist of Dog House.

And rarely, if ever, ends up in trees.

The stories are fairly simple, but the extra details provided in the illustrations add a level of humour to the short bursts of text.  Basket Cat’s baskety dreams are quite amusing and the cranky faces of the bees disturbed by Toby (the dog) certainly provide some subtle character development that can be pointed out to attentive little ones.  Once again though, as is the case for many picture books featuring animals, facial expressions are everything and Abey seems to have the knack for creating hilarity and changes in emotion with just a few small changes in penstroke.

Can I also mention how much I appreciate the board book format?  As a Bookshelf Gargoyle I spend a lot of time watching helplessly as mini-fleshlings systematically (with intent or otherwise) destroy picture books, so the sturdy, chewable, wipe-worthy format in which these books are presented goes a long way to ease my troubled mind.

I suspect Katie Abey will be one to watch as an up-and-comer in the picture book scene and I will be interested to see what she hatches next, if the quality of these, her debut efforts, are anything to go by.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

An Fi50 Reminder and TBR Friday!

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fi50

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…

only certainty

See you there!

TBR Friday

And now it’s time for TBR Friday!  Today’s book is The Art of Purring by David Michie; the sequel to The Dalai Lama’s Cat which I reviewed on the blog a couple of years back.  I think I borrowed the first book from the library and enjoyed it so much that I immediately purchased both it and its sequel…and then, of course, left the second book languishing on my shelf until…well, now.  Let’s kick off with the blurb from Goodreads:

What makes you purr? Of all the questions in the world, this is the most important. It is also the great leveler. Because no matter whether you are a playful kitten or a sedentary senior, a scrawny alley Tom or a sleek-coated uptown girl, whatever your circumstances, you just want to be happy. Not the kind of happy that comes and goes like a can of flaked tuna but an enduring happiness. The deep-down happiness that makes you purr from the heart.     

Before leaving for a teaching tour to America, the Dalai Lama poses a challenge to his beloved feline, HHC (His Holiness’s Cat): to discover the true cause of happiness. Little does she know what adventures this task will bring!     A hair-raising chase through the streets of McLeod Ganj leads to an unexpected revelation about the perils of self-obsession. An encounter with the mystical Yogi Tarchen inspires a breakthrough discovery about her past—one with dramatic implications for us all. And overheard conversations between ivy-league psychologists, high-ranking lamas, and famous writers who congregate at the Himalaya Book Café help her explore the convergence between science and Buddhism on the vital subject of happiness.     Sparkling with wisdom, warmth, and a touch of mischief, The Dalai Lama’s Cat and the Art of Purringis a charming reminder of why HHC is becoming one of the most-loved cats around the world.So what is the true cause of purring? The Dalai Lama whispers this secret on his return—only for the ears of HHC and those with whom she has a karmic connection . . . that, dear reader, means you!

the art of purring

Ten Second Synopsis:

The Dalai Lama is leaving on a world tour and Rinpoche is left to her own devices.  While gadding about with locals, she discovers nuggets of wisdom to pass on to the reader.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Since November 4, 2013 – so nearly three years!

Acquired:

Purchased from the Book Depository

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

I knew it would be a gentle sort of a read and more of the same as appeared in the first book so just kept overlooking it in favour of more exciting fare.

Best Bits:

  • The writing is unhurried and episodic, which means it is absolutely perfect for when you want a book that you can dip into before bed, a chapter at a time.
  • Nothing really bad happens, so it isn’t going to give you indigestion or have you up all night worrying about it
  • It is a gentle sort of a book with no preachiness or guilt-inducing exhortations to make your life better.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • I wouldn’t recommend reading it if you haven’t first read The Dalai Lama’s Cat.  You could probably enjoy it without having first read the previous book, but the first book really does have a lot more charm and character than this one.  I feel like this one reads a bit like a refresher course in being the Dalai Lama’s cat.
  • The human characters in this one aren’t as characterful as in the first book – the individual learning curves not as steep and the outcomes not as drastically happiness-inducing

On reflection, was this worth buying?

To be honest I could probably have just borrowed this one from the library.  Annoyingly, in a state of ridiculous generosity, I gave away my copy of The Dalai Lama’s Cat, and now that I have the lesser of the two books with me I wish I hadn’t.  Ah, impermanence!

Where to now for this tome?

I will probably pass it on to someone who will enjoy it.

This is another chink off the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block.

Mount TBR 2016

Until next time,

Bruce