Yarning with Mad Martha: Dumpling Cats

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Cheerio my dears! It’s been quite a while, hasn’t it, since we last sat down for a yarn so I am making up for that dearth of craft-related natter with a charming crochet book.  Dumpling Cats: Crochet and Collect Them All! by Sarah Sloyer is a book of amigurumi patterns based on that popular app and game, Neko Atsume, or Kitty Collector for the non Japanese-speakers.  We received a copy from Dover Publications via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Waffles is a relaxed feline who loves to read, and Cheeks just can’t get enough to eat. These fun-loving characters are just two of the 25 dumpling-shaped crochet cats in this whimsical collection. The cuddly crochet critters were inspired by the Pokémon™-like craze Neko Atsume, a game that enables you to attract cats to your backyard and “collect” them. Each little dumpling has a name and personality points that add up to big fun!

You don’t have to be an expert to crochet and collect these adorable kitties — the patterns are suitable for crocheters of all skill levels. Easy-to-follow instructions are accompanied by full-color photos and simple drawings. The directions explain every stage, from ears to tail, and some of the patterns include accessories and costume items. Plus, there are bonus patterns for a cat bed, food bowls, and more!

dumpling cats

As craft and pattern books go, this one is quite high spec.  The patterns are clearly set out with extra pictures showing how to assemble the pieces, which is always helpful for those who like to see things step by step.  Between the 25 kitty patterns are “bonus” patterns for accessories such as bowls and beds so crafters can provide a bit of comfort for their crocheted kitties.  I jumped in with the pattern for Dusty, who is pictured on the left of the cover, but since the mini-fleshlings prefer Pokemon at the moment, I modified the ears and tail to make an Eevee instead.

The beauty of this book is that it is perfect for beginner amigurumists, because the patterns are simple to follow and result in a small plush that can be created in only a few hours.  More importantly though, from an experienced crocheter’s perspective, the patterns are basic enough that they provide a variety of good base shapes that can be modified, if you have the skills, thereby opening up a whole range of creatures that could be made.  I’m already planning a Pikachu mod based on one of the plumper shapes.

Apart from the uses that I can see this having in terms of creating new spin-offs using these patterns, the book didn’t entirely work for me because I prefer working with larger sized plushies.  The small plushies produced here, that fit into the palm of your hand, aren’t as forgiving when it comes to little mistakes that can be made here and there while following the pattern.  Again though, the small sized pieces mean that a finished piece that looks pretty much like the picture is achievable for those new to the craft.

I can see myself coming back to this book to gain inspiration from the adorably squishy body shapes of the dumpling cats and I would definitely recommend it to beginners and more experienced amigurumists alike.

Yours in yarn,

Mad Martha

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

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

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

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

Dip into it for…cowboy pug

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

Don’t dip if…

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

Overall Dip Factor

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

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

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

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

the adventures of miss petitfour

Dip into it for…

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

Don’t dip if…

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

Overall Dip Factor

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

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

Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal: Doodle Cat is Bored

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Today I am bringing you the second, bright and zippy adventure from Kat Patrick’s inimitable Doodle Cat, Doodle Cat is Bored.  If you haven’t met Doodle Cat before, you should probably pop off and have a squizz at his introductory adventure, I Am Doodle Cat, but in the meantime, just be aware that Doodle Cat is loud, proud and impossible to ignore.

Especially when he’s bored.

We received our copy of Doodle Cat is Bored by Kat Patrick from Scribble Publications and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Doodle Cat is back and he is very bored. Until he finds a thing!

But what is this thing and what does it do?

doodle cat is bored

From that eye-ball burstingly bright cover, through the hypnotic endpapers to an all in pangolin party, Doodle Cat is Bored is a book that will imprint itself on your memory.  If you have read I Am Doodle Cat, you will be aware that our feline protagonist is confident, outgoing and not afraid to think outside the box.  So it is with Doodle Cat is Bored, after Doodle Cat finds a thing – which turns out to be a crayon – and boredom evaporates in the wake of scribbles that evoke everything from interstellar, gas-propelled travel to the discovery of long lost, pasta-based relatives.

The bold font of the text and the bright, minimalist colour palette ensures that each page cries out to be looked at and this really drew the mini-fleshlings into this particular story.  There are a few pages here that take advantage of a wider range of colours – all from one single crayon! Fantastic! – and this added to the feeling that author had developed the concept of Doodle Cat as a character and was working well with the illustrator to highlight the importance of imagination without ramming the message down kid’s throats.

Doodle Cat is also not afraid to be a little bit indecorous and the mini-fleshlings were in fits of laughter after Doodle Cat decides to draw his own bum.  Bums, of course, being the height of comedy for three to six year olds in the dwelling.  They also quite liked Wizard Susan’s unusually stinky mode of travel, but it took a few moments for them to fully appreciate the gag.

This is a great addition to the Doodle Cat series and I’m pretty sure the mini-fleshlings enjoyed this one more than the first, possibly because the theme of imagination and entertaining oneself was easier to grasp on to.  This series is not your typical picture book experience, as the author and illustrator aren’t afraid to bend the conventions of picture book creation to create a totally unique character and story flow.

We highly recommend Doodle Cat is Bored for mini-fleshlings of your acquaintance who are prepared to take a risk on something a little crazy.

Until next time,

Bruce

Meandering Through Middle Grade: The Blue Cat…

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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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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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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