Meandering through Middle Grade: The Hounds of Penhallow Hall

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We’re back with what is arguably my favourite reading age-group today – middle grade, with its boldly imagined worlds and indomitable characters.  Today I have a story we received from the publisher via Netgalley.  The Hounds of Penhallow Hall: The Moonlight Statue by Holly Webb and illustrated by Jason Cockcroft is a classic tale of a new home, loneliness and finding friends in unexpected places.  Here’s the blurb from Netgalley:

For Poppy, moving to Penhallow Hall is the fresh start she’s been longing for since the death of her father. Her mum has got a job managing the stately home and once the last of the visitors leave for the day the place is all theirs! One night, Poppy sleepwalks into the garden and wakes to find her hand on the head of one of the stone dogs that guard the steps down to the lawn. Then she feels him lick her cheek! The dog introduces himself as Rex, an Irish Wolfhound who lived at Penhallow many hundreds of years earlier. And he is not the only resident ghost – Poppy has also glimpsed a strange boy around the place. With Rex’s help she finds herself unravelling the story of his beloved master, William Penhallow, who was killed in the First World War aged only 17.

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Having a quick browse on Goodreads, it became apparent that Holly Webb has written quite a significant back catalogue of cutesy books about puppies, kittens, fairies and princesses for the younger end of the middle grade age bracket.  While there is a definite whiff of the cutesy about The Hounds of Penhallow Hall, the story overall fits nicely into the typical tropes about moving to a new, unexpectedly magical home with which the middle grade fantasy genre is replete.

There is really nothing new or particularly original about this story – a girl moves to a Big House with her mother, gets very lonely, discovers a fluffy magical companion and solves the mystery (such as it is) of a boy haunting the house.  There are no major problems to  overcome, no sense of particular danger or suspense and everything gets wrapped up quickly and easily with little struggle or fuss.  For that reason, this is one of those middle grade books that will appeal much more to younger readers than it will older readers of middle grade.

The story itself had a bit of an old-timey feel, probably due to the oft-used content, but Polly is instantly likable, Rex is the kind of companion anyone would love to have, and the ghost boy, William, caves quickly enough from his stroppy mood to make us like him too.  I will admit that reading this book did strengthen my already quite strong desire to make a wolfhound part of the Shelf family, however impractical that may be.

I would have liked to see a bit more conflict in this book; conflict in the sense of a problem that Polly has to solve or overcome to give the narrative a bit of oomph or suspense.  As it is, the story arc is basic and there didn’t seem to me to be enough of a hook to keep independent readers engaged, unless they particularly love dogs.

Overall, this is one that fell short of my expectations, but should appeal to the younger end of the middle grade audience and those who would love the idea of a magical doggy companion.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Third Time’s A Charm: The Increasingly Transparent Girl (Tales from Between #3)

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There’s no greater joy, when reading a series, to find that subsequent books are just as good as the earlier ones.  So it is with indie author Matthew Stott’s middle grade fantasy series Tales from Between.  I stumbled upon this series at the Kindle store a few weeks back and was so enamoured of the first book in the series that I bought the next two, and so far none have disappointed me.  One of the great things about this series is that even though the books take place in the same fantasy world, each story stands on its own and so you can pick up any book and start where you like.  Here’s the blurb for the third book in the series, The Increasingly Transparent Girl, from Goodreads:

Things live between awake and asleep. In the moment after your eyes grow too heavy to stay open, but before the dreams take you.

One day, Melody May begins to disappear from view. Her hands, her knees, her face, her everything. A monster’s enchantment has ensnared her, and now Melody must travel across a strange and dangerous land between awake and asleep to reclaim herself; otherwise, in 48 short hours, she will never have existed at all…

The overall tone and events of this book more closely matched the lighter, more fantasy based adventures of A Monstrous Place, the first of the series, once again moving away from the darker, more psychological adventures of the second book, The Identical Boy.   Melody May’s story takes place mostly in Between, as she ventures forth on a quest to steal back her visible body from a creepy, reclusive, mountain-dwelling entity known as The Whistler.  Accompanying Meloday on her journey (ha! I’ve only just now noticed that the protagonist’s name, Melody, relates closely to the main manipulative mechanism of the monster – whistling!) is a helpful cat that appears beside her in Between and we are even treated to a return appearance from Mr Adams and Neil from the first story, who now dwell in Between seeking out adventure and generally putting down monstrous calamity.

The Increasingly Transparent Girl is very much a “journeying” story, a familiar trope in middle grade fantasy, with the whole plot based around Melody’s quest to reach the Whistler’s mountain and return home in one piece.  This gives first time readers a good chance to see a bit of Between, and returning readers the opportunity to meet some creative new inhabitants of the place – I loved the concept of Time Bats and was happy to see a repeat performance from the Tall Man, who is Lord of Between.

I am totally convinced by the quality of this series and can’t wait to see what the author comes up with next.  The best bit about these books is that none has been similar in plot to the previous ones, and so even though the world is the same there are new and intriguing elements to uncover in each book and each story feels fresh and different.  While I wait for the next release, I took the liberty of buying two of the author’s stories for adults – Sixty-Six and Apocalypse Hill – and can’t wait to see what scares this inventive author has cooked up for older readers.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Aussie Classic Revisited: Stories from Stella Street…

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Stories from Stella Street by Elizabeth Honey. Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November 2016. RRP: $19.99

A long, hot Australian summer holiday needs a long, funny bout of escapist kidlit and to that end, I have for you not one, but three Aussie classic kids’ stories.  We received this bright and breezy (and big enough to use as a door stop!) 21st anniversary edition of Elizabeth Honey’s Stella Street stories.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s te blurb from their website:

Elizabeth Honey’s immensely popular 45 + 47 Stella Street and everything that happened turns 21! This special anniversary edition includes three exciting adventures in one big book: 45 + 47 Stella Street, Fiddle-back and The Ballad of Cauldron Bay.

CELEBRATING 21 YEARS OF STELLA STREET!

Meet Henni, the tallest girl in school, and her best friend Zev, with amazing electric hair, and Briquette, little Frank’s dog … and everyone else in Stella Street! Read Henni’s original version of what her gang did when the Phonies moved into their street and started to spoil everything! It’s fast and funny and you never know what’s going to happen next. Henni also tells the story of life-changing events when the Stella Street gang all went bush and camped by a wild river, and then how their perfect old-beach-house holiday in Cauldron Bay nearly ended in disaster.

Three hair-raising adventures in one chunky book!

Elizabeth Honey writes with the invigorating energy of a salty wind off the sea that wakes you up and makes you see the world afresh. Warm-hearted, funny, touching and wise, the Stella Street stories are about growing up and living life to the full.

Now, I can’t be sure whether or not I actually read these stories as a youngster – I’ve checked the dates and I would have been a little outside the target audience, but nonetheless, I did feel a tickle of familiarity as I meandered through the first book in this collection: 45 + 47 Stella Street and Everything That Happened.  This familiarity could be because I (a) did actually read this as a youngster but have forgotten or (b) it is so typical of its genre and target age for Australian books of the period that I feel like I know it even though I haven’t read it.
The first book in the collection was a delight to read.  Hanni has an appropriately conversational style for a young girl of the early nineties, bashing around the neighbourhood with her mates and prevailing upon God to deal out justice to the Phonies next door.  In the end of course, it’s Hanni and her gang – Zav, Frank and Danielle – who have to bring about justice against a pair of the worst kind of neighbours: rich, pompous and ready to complain at the drop of a hat.
One of the things I enjoyed about reading this is the lack of technology in the lives of the characters, both child and adult.  The Phonies are involved in a bit of a shady practice (I shan’t spoil it for you!) that nowadays would certainly require access to multiple devices, yet in this delightfully innocent tome the skulduggery is all paper-based.  Similarly, Hanni is writing a book – with a pencil and paper to begin with, and then a typewriter!  I wonder whether contemporary readers of what is now historical fiction would notice this in the text and what they might make of it.
The pace of the story is laconic, as indeed most Aussie stories should be, punctuated with flurries of activity.  Stella Street itself is so delightfully rendered by the author that it is the kind of street anyone would give their eye-teeth to live in.  Filled with friendly neighbours (barring the Phonies, of course) and kids that band together to make their own fun, it’s the kind of place that forms the dream of a perfect childhood.
I only got through the first book in the collection before this review.  I do intend to read the others – Fiddleback and The Ballad of Cauldron Bay – if only because Hanni is such an engaging voice.  If you enjoy a good Aussie yarn or would love to introduce your mini-fleshlings to the kind of life kids might have had before the internet was in every pocket, Stories from Stella Street would be a fantastic place to start.
Until next time,
Bruce

A Maniacal Book Club Review: The Royal Rabbits of London…

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It’s middle grade reading time again and today’s book will be deconstructed with the help of the Maniacal Book Club.  The Royal Rabbits of London by Santa Montifiore and Simon Sebag Montifiore blends the sweet innocence of animal stories with the high-action world of secret agents, and we received our copy from Simon & Schuster Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Life is an adventure. Anything in the world is possible – by will and by luck, with a moist carrot, a wet nose and a slice of mad courage

Shylo has always been the runt of the litter, the weakest and quietest of all of his family, his siblings spend their days making fun of him for not being like the rest of them. But when Shylo stumbles across a band of ratzis and overhears their evil plan to take a photo of the Queen in her nightie, it’s up to this unlikely hero to travel to London and inform the Royal Rabbits of London about the diabolical plot! The Royal Rabbits of London have a proud history of protecting the royal family and now the secret society need to leap into action to stop the ratzis… But can a rabbit as feeble and shy as Shylo convince them that Queen is in danger?

The Hobbit meets Fantastic Mr Fox meets Watership Down in this charming novel from bestselling authors Santa and Sebag Montefiore, which proves even the smallest rabbit can be the biggest hero.

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Now let’s hand over to the Book Club!

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

In a world that is so concerned with outward appearances, it is difficult for those who do not fit stereotypical ideas of beauty to find value in themselves.  So it is as well, apparently, in the world of woodland creatures.  Shylo is diminutive when compared to others of his ilk and is consequently dismissed by those around him as without merit.  It takes but one soul to offer belief in his abilities and this belief, like a flame across a row of candles, takes hold and spurs Shylo on to achieve great things.  Take heed my friends, for here is a lesson for us all! Even the smallest rabbit in the burrow can play a starring role in defending all the side of good.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

There are no dragons in this book.  There are some very strange, sneaky rats though, that like to take photos of people and embarrass them.  There are some angry, snappy little dogs too and the rabbits don’t like them because these dogs like to eat rabbits.  I think I wouldn’t mind eating a rabbit.  Maybe. But not Shylo.

I like Shylo because he is brave but ordinary too.  And I like Horatio, the old bunny, because he is mysterious and has scars and no one knows how he got them.  I didn’t like Shylo’s big brother.  He’s a meanie.  Maybe I could try eating him for my first taste of rabbit.

That would teach him.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

 

Who is hiding ‘neath that tree?

A red-pawed rabbit I can see!

Do you think he’ll play with me?

He looks as if he’s too busy!

Where’s he gone so hurriedly?

To save the Queen for you and me!

Bruce

maniacal book club brucePlease excuse me a moment while I inwardly bemoan Mad Martha’s increasingly appalling poetry……right, that’s done.  The Royal Rabbits of London is a delightful read for youngsters with an underlying gentleness that balances out the scenes of action and close escape.  Shylo Tawny-Tail is the runt of his litter and his older, bigger siblings miss no opportunity to remind him of this fact.  Shylo finds refuge with the elderly Horatio rabbit, who tells him stories of the Royal Rabbits of London, a secret society of agent rabbits living under Buckingham Palace, whose job it is to protect the Royal Family.

When Shylo overhears a plot to embarrass the Queen, he is suddenly thrust into a much more exciting life, as he attempts to contact the mysterious and reclusive Royal Rabbits and make them aware of the pending plot.  The first part of the book has a bit of a town-mouse, country-mouse feel (except with rabbits!), as Shylo ventures forth from the safety of his burrow and steps out into the dangers of the big city.  After making contact with the Royal Rabbits, Shylo finds himself caught up in a high-stakes adventure that might result in saving the Queen – at the expense of some rabbity lives.

Reading a chapter of this book per night was the perfect way to build the tension in the story and keep my interest up.  The text is ideal for young readers who are newly confident with longer chapter books and the story is illustrated throughout with beguiling line drawings that help bring the characters to vivid life.  Shylo shows such strength of spirit that I am certain young readers will just love him and be caught up in the challenges he faces.  There are a few (reasonably) scary (for young children) scenes toward the end of the book as Shylo and his friends attempt to escape from the Pack – the resident dogs of Buckingham Palace – but overall, the story has an innocence about it despite the high-tech, battle ready situation of the Royal Rabbits.

The rabbits who make up the secret society all have their own larger-than-life personalities and adult readers will notice some nods to the sorts of characters who populate grown-up spy stories in these furry fellows.  The world of the Royal Rabbits is also richly imagined, filled with structure, hierarchy, and international co-operation.

The ending of this book is not left up in the air, so can be enjoyed on its own, but for those thirsting for more adventure, a second book in this series will be published in 2017.  Overall, this is a delightful, engaging and colourful foray into the hidden world of animal secret agents!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Middle Grade Ripping Reads” Edition…

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Yeeeeeeehaaaaah!  I have some absolutely ripping reads to round up with you today, all of them pitched at a middle grade or early YA age group.  Excitingly, I’ve also stumbled across a fantastic, new-to-me indie fantasy series that I will share with you too!  I’m so excited I might pop my chaps!  Let’s ride on in!

Trollhunters (Guillermo Del Toro & Daniel Kraus)

*We received a copy of Trollhunters from Allen & Unwin for review*

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Trollhunters by Guillermo Del Toro & Daniel Kraus. Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November, 2016. RRP: $16.99

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Jim Jnr knows that the reason his dad is so overprotective has to do with what happened with his uncle forty years ago, but locks, alarms and curfews won’t stop what’s coming for Jim now.

Muster up the motivation because…

…Whoa there!

Hold Up!

In case you feel like you are experiencing deja vu, allow me to put your mind at rest.  Yes, I have reviewed Trollhunters before on this blog, but Allen & Unwin recently sent me this new, red-jacketed edition that is a tad more slim-lined than the first edition, because as seen on the informative sticker adorning the front cover, a new TV series is being (has been?) released based on the book.

Suffice to say, I will not bore you by re-reviewing a book that I have already reviewed, but if you haven’t come across Trollhunters before, you can find my original review here.  My updated comment on this edition is that the illustrations are still a drawcard and I am quite taken with the dashing red cover.

Brand it with:

Involuntary organ donation; safety when cycling; friends in low places

Murder in Midwinter (Fleur Hitchcock)

*We received a copy of Murder in Midwinter from Allen & Unwin for review*

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Murder in Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock. Published by Allen & Unwin, 23 November 2016. RRP: $14.99

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Maya is travelling home on the bus when she accidentally takes a photograph of a crime in progress. Now the criminal is after her and the police attempt to hide her away in the country at her aunt’s house – but is she as safe as she appears to be?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is an atmospheric, wintry romp through snow, sideways glances and suspicious criminal types.  I thoroughly enjoyed this brief but action-packed foray into middle grade mystery and the snowy setting was just the thing to take me away from summer heat that is so unforgiving it makes my eyeballs bleed.  Maya, the eldest sister in a charming little family that lives above their shop, innocently takes a photo from the bus window and is immediately plunged into a deadly game of cat and mouse when she realises that her photo may be a key piece of evidence in an unfolding murder investigation.  She is popped off to her aunt’s in Wales, and has to contend not only with being away from her close-knit family, but being shut in with her annoying (and downright disrespectful) cousin.  Of course, Maya turns out not to be as safe as the police thought she might be and it looks as if she and her repellent cousin may have to join forces to avoid being murdered in their beds.  Even though this is a standard size novel, it felt like a very quick read because the action just keeps coming.  There were some truly spine-tingling episodes in this one, as Maya’s antagonist attempts to smoke her out of the safety of her aunt’s house. There are a few bits of the story that do feel a bit clumsy and convenient to a reader of lots of adult murder mysteries, but overall this was lots of fun to read, with an epic, exciting, race-against-the-clock ending.  I would definitely recommend this to any readers looking for a wintry escape tinged with danger this holidays.

Brand it with:

Family ties; tips for taking good selfies; wintry Wales

Icebreaker: The Hidden #1 (Lian Tanner)

*We received a copy of Icebreaker from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Icebreaker: The Hidden #1 by Lian Tanner.  Published by Allen & Unwin, December 2016.  RRP: $12.99

Icebreaker: The Hidden #1 by Lian Tanner. Published by Allen & Unwin, December 2016. RRP: $12.99

Petrel is the Nothing Girl – shunned by her shipmates because of the actions of her parents when she was a baby. When Petrel spots a boy on the ice and convinces the chief engineer to have him brought aboard, events are set in motion that could change Petrel’s life forever – as well as endanger everyone on the ship.

Muster up the motivation because…

…there aren’t a great deal of middle grade adventure series set on an Icebreaker ship in a speculative future, so if you haven’t read one such already, The Hidden might be just the place to start your middle grade ice-boating adventure reading journey.  In case you’re wondering why this book seems familiar, this edition is a cover redesign of Lian Tanner’s successful series (which has already seen a number of re-jacketings, by the look of things), so you may have come across this book before, in a different cover.   From a personal point of view, this re-jacketing is a great thing because I had seen this book a number of times before, yet never picked it up.  When I pulled this one from the postal box, I immediately went, “Oooooh!” and eagerly read the back to see what it was about.  In that sense then, this cover art enticed me sufficiently to ensure that I actually read a book that I had previously passed on multiple times in the past.  The story is appropriately icy and atmospheric, with the ship becoming almost a character in itself.  The world aboard ship is clearly divided into three social groups – Engineers, Cooks and Officers – and the mechanics of this are deftly explained throughout the story without the need for information dumps to slow things down.  The story picks up pace quickly once Petrel spots the boy on the ice and his rescue starts to cause division amongst the crew.  Clearly, the boy’s presence on an ice floe is highly suspicious, but the crew can’t seem to puzzle out his purpose for being there.  Petrel, for her part, is keen to gloss over any potential danger because at last she has a companion in a society from which she has been effectively shunned.  Mister Smoke and Missus Slink, a pair of talking rats who may be more than they seem, are a great touch, and I particularly warmed to Squid, the cook’s daughter and loyal friend (eventually) to Petrel.  There are a lot of surprises in the second half of this book and Tanner has done a wonderful job of creating an insular world ruled by machinery and survival in a hostile environment.  If you are (or know) a fan of tales of a speculative future that are heavy on the atmosphere and feature writing that conjures the story like magic, then I would definitely recommend grabbing a copy of Icebreaker – in any of its jackets.

Brand it with:

Is the heating on?; a sailor’s life for me; infernal devices

A Monstrous Place: Tales from Between #1 (Matthew Stott)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  a-monstrous-place

When Molly’s best friend Neil goes missing, it is up to Molly to investigate. With the help of her ghostly Gran, Molly must brave the world of Between and unravel the mystery of her missing friend.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is an exciting, original new fantasy series for middle grade that has the potential to explore all sorts of spine-tingling and imaginative situations.  I stumbled across this when the Kindle store threw it up as a recommended read, so I took a chance…and have subsequently bought the next two books in the series.  Between is a world that exists between waking and sleeping and is populated by all manner of strange, unexpected and unbelievable folk, including a tall faceless man, a boy-who-is-not-a-boy, and a bus full of weirdos of various persuasions.  When Molly’s best friend goes missing, her Gran – currently residing as a ghost in Between – tips her off as to where he might be, and Molly’s rescue mission begins.  After discovering some home truths about her next-door neighbours, Molly realises that she must brave a terrifying prospect in an attempt to save her mother from a fate worse than death.  The world of Between is just perfectly suited to my reading preferences.  I love original worlds filled with quirky, scary and unexpected folk and this book has them in spades.  There are a few sections of the book that are a little bit scary, but overall the story is packed with action and puzzle-solving as Molly attempts to wrangle her own rabbit-hole and save those she loves. Overall, the book has a sense of levity about it that staves off any real sense of terror, but there are definitely a few bits that had me biting my nails.  The adult characters of Gran and Mr Adams are larger than life in some senses, which keeps the story firmly in the realm of make-believe for younger readers.  I haven’t been so excited about an indie series since I found Mick Bogerman’s Slug Pie Stories, which I’ve raved about multiple times on the blog and it’s heartening to know its still possible to stumble over original, highly engaging indie-made stories.   I am so pleased to have found this series and I highly recommend these to you, if you are a fan of original fantasy tales.

Brand it with:

Sleepy time tales; old-fashioned chutzpah; gruesome gardening

The Identical Boy: Tales from Between #2 (Matthew Stott)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the-identical-boy

Sam is bullied at school and a disappointment to his parents, so when he slips into Between and discovers a friend, it makes perfect sense to help the boy through to Awake, where they can be best friends together. As Sam and his friend start setting Sam’s world to rights, it becomes clear that Sam’s best ever best friend may not have Sam’s best interests at heart.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this second book in the Tales from Between indie middle grade series takes a much scarier turn than the first book.  More a psychological thriller in tone, The Identical Boy takes place mostly in the waking world, in which Sam is lonely and bullied…until his friend from Between crosses the border.  The book starts off innocuously enough, with Sam and his new friend dealing out schoolyard justice to a truly nasty gang of bullies, but as the boys spend more time together, things start to get a little out of hand.  Gorily out of hand, if I’m honest.  I ended up knocking this one over in one sitting because I just had to know what happened next, in that “I know it’s going to be bad, but I can’t look away” kind of way. In this book we also meet Ally, Sam’s rebellious, anti-establishment baby-sitter who becomes an ally for Sam when things start getting dangerous.  We get to see the Tall Man from Between, who appeared in the first book, again, and as the book continued I suddenly realised that Sam’s friend may indeed be the Not-Boy from the first book, although this is not confirmed – he certainly shares some of the Not-Boy’s personality traits though!  I suspect that the audience for this book would need to be of slightly sturdier stuff than readers who found the first book genuinely scary, because there is a bit of violence and blood-splatting in this one that is scary in a more realistic way than the fantasy frights of the first book.  As this series is designed to be a set of standalones though (if that makes sense!), more sensitive readers could easily skip over this one if it’s outside their comfort zone.  This is shaping up to be a super-readable series and I am impressed with the variety in content and setting that Stott has shown in just these first two stories.  I can’t wait to get stuck into book three, which is sitting on my Kindle patiently waiting its turn.  It won’t have to wait long!

Brand it with:

BFFs; parental disengagement; fun with flesh-ripping

Now look me in the eye, partners, and tell me that there isn’t a book in this herd that you want to lasso and drag home to your shelf.  Of course there is – but which one is your favourite?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Completely Unrelated Kidlit” Edition…

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I tried and tried, but I couldn’t think of a theme that would link the books for today’s Round-Up, so you’ll just have to bear with me.  We have a picture book based on a classic dance hit, a fairy tale retelling for early chapter book fans and a book of stats and facts for the upcoming T20 Cricket season here in Australia.  Let’s saddle up and ride into this diverse herd!

Footloose (Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford & Tim Bowers)

* We received a copy of Footloose from Allen & Unwin for review *

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Footloose by Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford & Tim Bowers.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October 2016.  RRP: $19.99

Footloose by Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford & Tim Bowers. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October 2016. RRP: $19.99

When the zoo closes down for the night the fun really starts!  A reimagining of the classic hit song featuring a crowd of dancing animals.

Muster up the motivation because…

…I’m pretty sure nobody needs a reason to bust out a few moves when Footloose comes on the radio and so it will no doubt be with this lively, colourful picture book.  Let me say up front that I’m not the greatest fan of the songs-to-picture-books trend, mostly because the songs are generally awesome on their own and the added book just slows them down, trying to squish slightly awkward text into a pre-existing lyrical framework.  I did find that was the case here to a certain degree.  Footloose is one of the younger mini-fleshling’s favourite boogie tunes and while there were a few smiles throughout the reading of this one, she didn’t express the unbridled glee that I expected, or indeed that she exhibits when she’s throwing down the moves to the song.  The illustrations are certainly inviting and animated and its obvious that the animals are having a cracking time cutting footloose.  There’s also a CD that comes with the book so you can experience the tune in your own home.  Overall, I think little kids will love the vivid illustrations and the general fun vibe of the book, but for me, some of the text didn’t quite work as a read (or sing) aloud, which kind of defeats the purpose of the book, in my opinion.  If you are a fan of the song, you will no doubt end up checking this book out, so do let me know what you think.

Brand it with:

Dancing leads to animal frivolity, 80s dance hits, busting a move

Big Bash Book 2016-17 (Daniel Lane)

* We received a copy of the Big Bash Book 2016-17 from Allen & Unwin for review *

Two (well, one) Sentence Synopsis: 

Big Bash Book 2016-17 by Daniel Lane.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 9th November 2016.  RRP: $29.99

Big Bash Book 2016-17 by Daniel Lane. Published by Allen & Unwin, 9th November 2016. RRP: $29.99

A photo-filled look at the players and teams who will feature in this season’s KFC T20 Big Bash league.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you are a cricket fan, this book will no doubt provide hours and hours of viewing pleasure…much like test cricket itself.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or in a country that doesn’t really play cricket) it will have been impossible not to notice the dramatic rise in popularity of the Big Bash League.  Colourful, loud, reasonably priced and family friendly are words that describe both the League itself, as well as this high quality tome.  It is well known that I have a rather lacklustre attitude towards cricket of any kind, but even I can’t help but get sucked in to the energy and excitement of Big Bash cricket.  This book is much the same.  While I have little to no interest in the contents of this book, I couldn’t help but pick it up and have a flick through.  It is full colour throughout, with big photographs of players and teams, and I’m pleased to note that both men’s and women’s teams are featured.  I immediately flicked through to the Brisbane Heat sections of the book and read up on Chris Lynn (he of the big six hitting capability), while saying a little prayer that the Heat win more than one game this season.  On my flick through the book I also managed to catch a glimpse of one Jake Lehmann, sporting a moustache that is as alluring as it is disturbing.  That aside, predictably, I suppose, when I left the book out in plain sight in the dwelling, it was immediately snatched up by the he-fleshling and the mini-he-fleshling, who began poring over it and discussing their memories of last year’s season (during which the mini-he-fleshling managed to attend a game at the Gabba…the only game of the season that the Heat actually won, so at least they got their money’s worth).  This is clearly a niche market book but would make a fab gift for any cricket fan of your acquaintance.

Brand it with:

I don’t like cricket…(no really, I don’t); family entertainment; fun with fielding

The Spell Thief: Little Legends (Tom Percival)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis: the-spell-thief

When new kid Anansi moves to town, Jack (from the Beanstalk) can’t shake the feeling that there is something shady about him.  After Jack tries to prove his theory, things start going from bad to worse, and Jack must decide how far he is prepared to go to get to the truth.

Muster up the motivation because…

…as early chapter books featuring rehashed fairy tale characters go, this one is of quite a high quality.  The Little Legends series features all your favourite fairy tale characters (including, but not limited to, Jack (of the beanstalk), Red (of the riding hood) and Rapunzel (with the hair)), as well as Jack’s talking pet chicken Betsy (although the only thing she can say is “Whaaaat?”).  The books aren’t retellings of the original fairy tales, but rather feature the familiar characters in fairy tale-like adventures.  In this story, Anansi, who those of African heritage may know as the trickster spirit, arrives in the village and is spotted by Jack engaged in mildly suspicious activity involving imps and trolls.  Jack then sets out on a quest to prove his theory that Anansi is a troublemaker, but predictably ends up causing far more trouble himself.  The book is illustrated throughout, which adds immensely to the story, and although the kids feel a little bit too “Disney” for my liking, the characters are all true to age and true to form, in dialogue and behaviour.  There is also a satisfying mix of male and female characters here, so the book isn’t particularly skewed toward one gender or the other.  I quite enjoyed the story due to the fact that it was a quick read and the action kept moving, with some interesting twists and characters that one might not expect from a fairy tale world.  I think my favourite part of the world is the concept of the great Story Tree; a tree that sits in the middle of town and grows a new branch every time a resident creates a new story through their actions.  As this is the first book in a series, I can imagine that the Story Tree will be sprouting a lot of new branches as the stories keep coming.

Brand it with:

Not your Nanna’s fairy tales; trick or be tricked; water-soluble solutions

It’s an unlikely collection, I’ll admit, but hopefully at least one of these tomes has caught your eye and inspired you to go out and round it up.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Great Yarns for Tweens…

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It’s time to round up some reads for the young ones featuring outrageous babysitters, spies-in-training and a whole world of magic right under our noses.  Saddle up, let’s get after ’em!

Marge in Charge (Isla Fisher)

*We received a copy of Marge in Charge from Allen & Unwin for review*

marge in charge

Marge in Charge by Isla Fisher Published by Allen & Unwin, 27th July 2016. RRP: $14.99

Two Sentence Synopsis: 

Jemima thinks that being looked after by a babysitter will be boring, but she reckoned without rainbow-haired firecracker Marge!  Now Jemima has to work hard to make sure Marge doesn’t turn the house upside down.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is actually three stories, not one, featuring an old granny with more than a bit of life left in her yet.  In fact, the mini-fleshlings might find it hard to keep up with her spontaneity and sense of fun.  In these three introductory tales, Jemima and her little brother Jake are left in the care of diminutive Marge after their parents go out leaving strict instructions to follow the rules.  Marge, who is a blend of Mary Poppins, Nanny McPhee and Fran Drescher, manages to stick to the spirit of the rules, if not the letter, causing chaos and excitement, as well keeping a few tricks up her sleeve in order to save the day.  The first story is our introduction to Marge on a regular night in, the second features a right royal knees-up at a friend’s birthday party, while the third story demonstrates why school visitors need to sign in to the office before attending class.  These stories are perfectly pitched at the 6 to 9 year old age range, being short, action-packed and illustrated throughout.  As a serial read-aloud before bed, or a quick dose of comedy for confident young readers, Fisher has managed to hit the nail on the head with a lovable and quirky old Marge.

Brand it with:

While the cat’s away; age is just a number; serial offender

Archie Greene and the Alchemist’s Curse (D.D. Everest)

*We received a copy of this title from Allen & Unwin for review*

archie greene

Archie Greene and the Alchemist’s Curse by D. D. Everest. Published by Allen & Unwin, 27th July 2016. RRP: $14.99

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Archie returns to his apprenticeship at the Museum of Magical Miscellany before unexpectedly receiving a second, unforeseen firemark. After discovering that his destiny may require an important choice, Archie and his friends must work together to unearth the secrets of the past, before history repeats itself.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a richly imagined tale set in a thoroughly detailed magical world.  Let’s just get out of the way straight of the bat that there are marked similarities between this story and the Harry Potter series which will be obvious to anyone who has read the latter.  This didn’t put me off particularly though, because Archie is a different sort of a boy to Harry and there are different social and historical aspects at play in Archie’s world.  Within the first few chapters Archie receives a completely unexpected (and quite possibly dangerous) new apprenticeship mark, as well as being told in a highly public (and quite possibly ruinous) fashion that his destiny is cloudy at best.  I had high hopes that I would get sucked into this story in the same way that I did with the Potter series, but this one fell short just a bit – possibly because it is the second in the series and I haven’t read the first.  The author takes great pains to point out the salient bits of information that readers new to the series might need to know, and while this is helpful, it does slow the story significantly in the early stages.  If you can get past the informational asides however, there is a detailed world awaiting you with plenty of spirit and flair, as well as a historical mystery that appears to be replaying itself in the present.  I would be interested to go back to book one and start this series where it is supposed to begin because the writing is quite absorbing, the characters varied and the world thoroughly magical.

Brand it with:

Alternative Potter; Workplace Health & Safety; Destined for Weirdness

The Double Cross: And Other Skills I Learned as a Superspy (Jackson Pearce)

*We received a copy of The Double Cross from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

double cross

The Double Cross by Jackson Pearce. Published by Bloomsbury Australia, August 2016. RRP: $14.99

Two Sentence Synopsis: 

Hale is the most unfit spy at spy school and it doesn’t help that his parents are legendary field agents.  When his parents go missing in action however, Hale must use all his skills to track them down – and avoid the other spies while he’s doing it.

Muster up the motivation because…

…apart from being  a lovely change from the magic/fantasy genre, this is a book that deftly mixes action and humour to create a highly absorbing adventure.  Hale is an immediately likable narrator and we are introduced to him as he uses his brains to outwit his fellow spy-students and avoid the most heinous of punishments: extra push-ups.  There’s a certain unaffected confidence in Hale, despite his obvious physical failings in the fitness department, and when coupled with his sister Kennedy’s boundless energy and advanced spy-sills, the pair ensure that the story moves on apace.  There are layers of mystery to solve here and because everyone involved is a spy or spy-in-training, it’s not immediately apparent who the good guys are.  I’d definitely recommend this to young readers who love action that is blended with characters that don’t take themselves too seriously, in a setting that doesn’t need magic or fantasy to make it seem unreal.

Brand it with:

Saving the parents; constant vigilance; agents in disguise

That’s all I’ve got for you today, so let’s split up and meet back here once you’ve tamed one of these wild reads!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

wild beasts