An MG Double-Dip, A Top Book of 2015 and a Giveaway!

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imageWelcome to a very special Double Dip review and giveaway! Today I have two books for a middle-grade audience that were kindly provided to the shelf for review by HarperCollins Australia – thanks! – and that would make perfect stocking stuffers for a worthy young person of your acquaintance.  One of these is hands-down one of my TOP BOOKS OF 2015! Read on for details on how to enter the giveaway – I will be providing one winner with their choice of one of these books! Hurrah!

Let’s get on with it!

First up is my TOP BOOK OF 2015 pick – The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Archer B. Helmsley has grown up in a house full of oddities and treasures collected by his grandparents, the famous explorers. He knows every nook and cranny. He knows them all too well. After all, ever since his grandparents went missing on an iceberg, his mother barely lets him leave the house.

Archer B. Helmsley longs for adventure. Grand adventures, with parachutes and exotic sunsets and interesting characters. But how can he have an adventure when he can’t leave his house?

It helps that he has friends like Adélaïde L. Belmont, who must have had many adventures since she ended up with a wooden leg. (Perhaps a crocodile ate it. Perhaps not.) And Oliver Glub. Oliver will worry about all the details (so that Archer doesn’t have to).

And so Archer, Adélaïde, and Oliver make a plan. A plan to get out of the house, out of their town entirely. It’s a good plan.

Well, it’s not bad, anyway.

But nothing goes quite as they expect.

Dip into it for…

…a gently unfolding story of friendship and breaching self-imposed limits.  Before I get into dissecting the story, let medoldrums point out that the lovely hardback edition to which I was given access is illustrated throughout with FULL PAGE, FULL COLOUR illustrations that are just exquisite and lend that extra bit of specialness to the book.  The story begins by introducing us to Archer B. Helmsley, his unusual family circumstances and desire to break out of his mother’s overprotective clutches.  Soon enough, Oliver Glub (it’s good to be a Glub!), Archer’s next door neighbour and schoolmate, joins the fray, lending the voice of reason to Archer’s ill-thought-out plans.  Finally, just when the reader thinks they have learned all there is to learn about Archer and Oliver, and can predict how the story will unfold, we are introduced to Adelaide, French immigrant, ex-ballet dancer, and possessor of one wooden leg (possibly oak).  Adelaide was the real stand-out character for me and I absolutely adored the way that she was rendered by the author – confident but not sassy, self-possessed but not selfish and exceptional but not freakish.

The story is filled with dry, subtle humour and an atmosphere that suggests that anything is possible, despite the fact that most of Archer’s plans are foiled by fate or foe quite early on in proceedings.

Don’t dip if…

…you are expecting a story replete with action and conquest.  While there is some action in the story, not least of which being the unexpectedly life-threatening ending, the story focuses more on the developing friendship between the three protagonists and mystery surrounding the disappearance of Archer’s grandparents.  In a sense, Archer is caught in the doldrums in this story, and the adventure is more in the incidental surprises thrown up by an ordinary life rather than those encountered by well-travelled explorers.

Overall Dip Factor

Being a regular reviewer means that I am granted access, on occasion to some very high quality books.  The Doldrums really blew me away with how beautifully produced this hardback edition is – it’s something unusual and provided a wonderful print reading experience (which is why I’m not giving my copy away!!).  Just in terms of its look and feel, this book would make a great “Wow!” book to slip into a Christmas stocking.  The story is also unusual in that I expected, from the first few chapters, that the plot would quickly set up the mystery of Archer’s grandparents, provide some useful friends for Archer, and send them off on a whirlwind, whacky adventure.  Much more is going on in the story however, and it is definitely worth a look for young and older readers who enjoy subtle humour, a touch of the ridiculous and characters that you will want to be friends with, long after you’ve finished the book.

Now onto some Aussie middle-grade, also illustrated throughout and featuring a touch of the ridiculous – Olive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad and illustrated by Lucia Masciullo.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Olive has always dreamed of attending boarding school, but Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers is not what she expected. To tell the truth, dear reader, it is not what anyone expected!


The headmistress is completely bonkers and Pig McKenzie, school bully and all-round nasty swine, is determined to make Olive’s life unbearable.


Olive, however, is clever, sweet and kind, and soon gains the loyalty and devotion of three rats, a short-sighted moose, a compulsive liar and a goose who faints at the sight of cherries.


But will friendship and wits be enough when Pig McKenzie puts his Truly Wicked Plan into gear? Or will Olive be cast out of Groves forever?

Dip into it for…

…the kind of school that kids have longed to attend since time immemorial.  Groves is a school in which explosions, mess, general naughtiness, high-flying acrobatics, and throwing one’s dinner around the room are commonplace.  It olive of grovesalso features a wonderfully diverse group of talking animals as students – including my favourite, the perpetually anxious goose, Glenda (Oh, mercy!) – and a headmistress who turns a blind eye to practically every strange thing happening in her school.  Olive is a charming, steadfast, courageous young lass who does a wonderful job of making the best of a very tricky (and in some cases, literally sticky) situation and with the help of her ratty roommates, sets about proving that she is not a perfectly ordinary girl and deserves a place at Groves, in all its diverse glory, even if she has to scale a highwire wearing only tatty old long-johns to prove it.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re expecting a story that makes a lot of sense.  I suspect that this is one of those stories that will appeal to kids much more than adult readers of middle grade (although its complexity did grow significantly toward the end), but if you’re not into characters that are over-the-top and general silliness abounding, then this book is probably not for you.

Overall Dip Factor

I can imagine Olive of Groves as a wonderfully cheeky read-aloud for a classroom of mischief-loving grade three or four children.  The book has a narrator that certainly does not mince words and provides a particularly amusing commentary on the antics of Olive and her friends (and nemeses).  Apart from the chaos and high jinx that seems to invade Groves’ every corner, this book also provides some solid inspiration for those needing to stand up and be counted when it seems that the world (or even just one Very Despicable Pig) is against you.

And now it’s……

Giveaway Time!

I am going to offer ONE winner their choice of one of these books.  The giveaway is open internationally and will run from the moment this post goes live (NOW!) until midnight November 27th (Brisbane time).  The winner will be chosen using a random number generator and will have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a new winner is chosen!

To enter, just comment on this post with the title of the book you would like to win – either The Doldrums or Olive of Groves.

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: What Milo Saw….and a Fi50 Reminder…

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imageAhoy and avast, ye shelf-lubbers! Today I have a book for grown ups, told from the perspective of two of my favourite fleshling-types: children and old people.  Actually, it’s told from multiple points of view, but we’ll get to that later.  And before I go any further, allow me to remind you that Fiction in 50 for July will be going live on Mondayand this month’s prompt will be…

path to enlightenment

To find out more, just click on that attractive button over there.  We’d love to have you play along!

Now, back to business – today’s offering is What Milo Saw by Virginia MacGregor.

Nine-year-old Milo suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, which causes him to see the world as if looking through a pinhole.  But Milo often spots things that others miss.  When Milo’s beloved Gran moves out of their home and into Forget-Me-Not nursing home, it seems that Milo is the only one that can see how Nurse Thornhill mistreats the patients.  With his mother reeling from the recent, girlfriend-and-new-baby laden departure of his father, the only one Milo can rely on is his pet pig, Hamlet.  Then Milo meets Tripi, a Syrian refugee and the cook at Forget-Me-Not, and things start looking up.  As Milo digs deeper into the scandal at the nursing home, he will need all the help he can get to expose Nurse Thornhill and her brutal ways and save the day – as well as saving his Gran.

what milo sawRead it if:

* you believe pigs (and elderly Grans) are for life, not just for Christmas

* you’ve ever wondered why nursing home patrons never look like they’re having any fun

* you’ve ever found a new friend in a very unlikely place

* you thoroughly enjoy stories in which old people get to break free from the shackles of advanced age and live a little

I seem to be bringing you a lot of books with elderly protagonists lately – and why not, I say! I love them, generally (the books that is, not necessarily the old people.  That’s on a case by case basis).  What Milo Saw is a one part mystery, one part humour, and one part relationship novel with beguiling characters who are all handicapped by their situation in one way or another.  Milo has a problem with his eyesight, Gran’s mind is fading, Sandy (Milo’s mum) is having a hard time after her relationship break-up and Tripi is a refugee with no papers who has left his twelve-year-old sister behind in Syria.  As individuals, they have great difficulties overcoming their various problems, but when they start working together, problems seem to be quickly resolved.

I really enjoyed reading this book mostly because of the genuinely likeable characters,  but I never got to the point of really loving it.  While the plot was reasonably complicated, with the lives of various characters overlapping in interesting ways, the overall telling of the story was somewhat formulaic.  I felt that a few of the elements, such as Milo’s eyesight problems and the inclusion of the pig, were a bit contrived and didn’t necessarily add anything to the story overall, apart from a quirky hook in the blurb.  Similarly, while the characters were likeable, they were mostly quite two-dimensional.

Nevertheless, despite these niggling issues, the book was a fun, engaging read and had plenty of humour to spark things up.  The use of multiple points of view to tell the story also helped my enjoyment of the book, as it allowed for a few twists in the story that would otherwise have been missing.

Overall, I think this would be a great holiday read, or a book for those times when you don’t want to have to work too hard and are looking for something with a bit of heart and humour.  What Milo Saw is due to be released on July 29th.

Until next time (get those Fi50 ideas churning!),

Bruce

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Stenchblossoms Re-loaded: A Word on Naming One’s Offspring

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Afternoon all.  I come to you on this lazy, rainy Saturday with a lazy, rainy re-post of one of my earliest posts.  I’ve been overhearing a lot about baby names around the shelf lately, so I thought I would re-post a tiny bit of my own brilliance, in suggesting some potential offspring monikers from great fiction-y literature.  Enjoy!

names

**  Please note no responsiblity will be taken for incessant teasing resulting from the infliction of any of these names on your offspring **

A Stench Blossom by any other name would smell as sweet….

Names are important, aren’t they? This is as true for gargoyles as it is for flesh folk. I myself am named after my great-grandfather – a mighty shelf warrior, who only ever allowed books from his shelf to be borrowed on the condition that the borrower left a token as a guarantee that the book would be returned. This token usually took the form of the first-born spawn of the borrower.

I have noticed, from overheard conversations between flesh folk, that there seems to be a trend toward unique and unusual names for newly minted flesh folk. For the greater good of fleshling kind, I wish to contribute some suggestions for names from the world of fiction. These should scratch any itch for individuality that a new flesh parent may feel. “Verily!” these names shout, “Great thinkers they may not have been, but let no one state that my name-givers were not great readers!”

For the unique and unusual male child:

Voldemort (Harry Potter Series/J.K. Rowling) – a name for parents who wish their child to be ambitious, academic, set apart from common folk and great contributors to hitherto unexplored avenues of evil .

Tumnus (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe/C.S.Lewis) – for parents who envisage a child who has a gift for music, and a desire to help lost children…while plotting their imminent downfall.

Slartibartfast (The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy/Douglas Adams) – sure to satisfy lovers of interesting spelling everywhere, this name would be best suited to the child developing an early and keen interest in fjords.

Mistoffelees (Old Possum’s Practical Book of Cats/T.S. Eliot) – Another for the you-neek spelling brigade…and there’s hardly likely to be another kid in the same class with this one, is there?

Oedipus (Corduroy Mansions Series/Alexander McCall Smith) – it goes without saying that this is the perfect choice for the quintessential “Mummy’s boy”.

For the different and diverse female child:

Narcissa (Harry Potter Series/J.K. Rowling) – any teen girl child spending hours in front of the mirror will no doubt be accused of loving herself on at least one occasion….why not take the sting out of the barb and acknowledge this tendency at birth?

Pestilence (The Bible, The 13th Horseman/Barry Hutchison) – traditionally a male name, I’m hoping this one can make the leap across the gender gap and be taken up by trendsetting parents of girls…it has a charming ring to it, don’t you think?

Verruca (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory/Roald Dahl) – the perfect appellation for that child who is always underfoot.

Tofu (Scotland Street Series/Alexander McCall Smith) – another name that I hope will bridge the gender gap, it acknowledges the tendency of the majority of folk to be blandly average. On the other hand, this name could suit the child who has a gift for making up the numbers in any social situation.

Shelob (The Lord of the Rings Series/J. R. R. Tolkien) – admittedly a strong name for a young lady, possibly best suited to a tomboy. Or a lass who is fond of the number eight. Or who has an affinity with arachnids. Or prefers the hairy-legged look.

While this list should provide any prospective parents with a wealth of names to choose from, further inspiration may be drawn from the following two tomes that I have come across in my bookish wanderings:

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read it if: Cinderella Ate My Daughter….

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Now is that a great title, or is that a great title? In fact, it was a brief glimpse at the title of today’s book that fired my curiosity and ultimately led to my immersion in the topic, despite not having a daughter myself.  Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontline of the New Girly Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein delves into the baffling, overwhelming and generally difficult-to-negotiate world of parenting young girls in the modern era.  The book focuses around Orenstein’s own struggles and contradictory actions in balancing out a healthy, fun childhood experience for her daughter with her own philosophies and values around gender and identity.

For Orenstein, raising a daughter to be a strong, confident person with a diverse range of talents and interests and a healthy understanding of her own femininity and the numerous ways in which it can be expressed, was a simple and straightforward matter.  Then, of course, she had a daughter.  Let the befuddlement (and 5th birthday spa and facial parties) commence!

cinderella

Read it if:

* you have noticed that Disney Princesses, when depicted together, never make eye contact, and you are curious as to why that might be

* you shook your head in bewilderment on realising that Dora (intrepid explorer and wielder of the purple backpack of adventure) was suddenly dressing in fairy and princess garb

* you’ve suddenly noticed a lot more four-year-olds of your acquaintance wearing lip gloss and eye shadow

* you can’t remember when entire aisles at the toy store became swathes of pink….even in the Lego section

* you are the parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher or carer of a female under the age of 18

 
I found this to be an enlightening read despite not having female offspring to apply it to.  Orenstein exposes some of the more insidious aspects of girl culture while acknowledging the difficulties parents (herself included) experience in finding a middle ground that allows kids to be shielded from incessant (and age-inappropriate) marketing drives, while still enjoying activities and toys that are important to their peers.  It’s also a reasonably quick and light read with plenty of humour, and with thought-provoking material in every chapter it’s the sort of book that provides value even when being skimmed, or picked up and put down.  Highly recommended.

Until next time,

Bruce

Challenging Reads: January First…

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Ahem. Let me assume *serious reviewer mode* today as we delve into…..

Obstacle number 3 in the What’s in a Name Reading ChallengeJanuary First: A Child’s Descent Into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her by Michael Schofield.

Taken from: the Non-Christie-Listie

Category: Three – A book with a party or celebration in the title

January First is the memoir of Michael Schofield, father of January (Janni) Schofield, a little girl who has been diagnosed with childhood schizophrenia. It charts the extreme lengths that Janni’s family had to go to before her illness could be diagnosed and appropriate help obtained.  I was drawn to this book after seeing this family’s story on television – notably on Oprah and Dr Phil .

january first

This book’s Point of Difference:

That would have to be it’s unusual subject matter and the author’s voice…more about that below.

Pros:

– Well, it’s certainly an interesting read.  The author relates the day-to-day struggles of living with a child with extreme (and inexplicable) behaviours and I’m sure many parents would be able to relate to at least some of what he describes, if not to the levels exprienced here.

Cons:

– I had a couple of problems with this book. Firstly, I came to this book after having seen the family in documentary style tv shows….from those it was obvious that Jani had some major differences in behaviour from your average 8 or 9 year old, and required medical intervention.  Unfortunately, in the book, the way her father describes some of these behaviours makes it seem as if Jani is just the typical, naughty brat one might see in the lolly aisle of the shopping centre, screaming until it gets its way.  I found this off-putting, as part of the family’s struggle was getting professionals to understand that her behaviour was atypical and dangerous to herself and others. 

– Michael Schofield narrates the story with a spectacular disregard for his wife’s (Jani’s mother’s) abilities and level of caring about their daughter.  In fact, almost everyone in the book is depicted as having a far lower level of rapport and ability to manage Jani than Schofield himself. I’m not sure whether this was a deliberate attempt to relate the actual dynamic of the relationship and his real emotional responses to the situations they found themselves in – he does address this briefly towards the end of the book –  but I found his narration arrogant and coupled with my first con, it left me with the (unwanted and judgemental) feeling that it was unsurprising that he didn’t find the help Jani needed sooner.

Overall:

I wanted to like this book more than I did. I was hoping it would be an insightful glimpse into the lack of services available for mental health generally and children’s mental health specifically.  It did accomplish this to a degree, but I really struggled with building mental rapport with the author and this diminished my levels of empathy toward his situation.  If you would like to give this one a try (and it’s certainly worth a look, despite my cons) I would suggest doing so after viewing some of Jani’s story on video, to give you an idea of Jani as a person. 

Here’s a little bit of Jani’s first appearance on Oprah Winfrey, to start you off.

Oh, and if  you are wondering why I started off calling her Janni and changed to Jani, all will be explained in the book.

Until next time, campers!
Bruce

 

 

 

Introducing Mad Martha….and bedtime books for little gargoyles.

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Mad Martha, pictured here on a holiday visit to the Cumberland Pencil Museum.

I feel it would be remiss of me at this stage not to introduce to you someone who shares shelfspace with me.  Mad Martha is another denizen of the shelf, who shares my role as book guardian, and also defends the shelf against spider hordes as and when necessary.  I have extended an invitation to her to join me in my blogging endeavour, and she has kindly accepted that invitation.

Now, to the business of musing.  I have been asked by a follower to share my knowledge in the area of books that are best suited to ushering little gargoyles (and fleshlings) off into the land of Nod.  While there are many books that fit this criteria, I have selected three that I feel do the job admirably…

A classic of the “digital” age

The first of these is Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, by that wizard of wordsmithing, Mem Fox.   The gentle rhyming text assists little ones to count their own digits instead of the more traditional counting of sheep, in the pursuit of drowsiness.  A word of caution however: the repeated refrain of this book “and each little baby/as everyone knows/has ten little fingers/and ten little toes” may make it a controversial choice for those who do not possess a full complement of fingers or toes.  Or indeed, those that possess a full compliment plus reinforcements.

Who’s in charge here?

Next is Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! by the incomparable Mo Willems.  This titanic struggle betwixt reader and pigeon will be all too familar to parents of  stubborn little fleshlings, for whom sleep is a dirty word.  Parents will enjoy the tried and true excuses trotted out by the manipulative pigeon and reading the book with their offspring should significantly reduce a young fleshling’s arsenal of bed-avoiding strategies.  And no, you can’t have a glass of water.

This won’t take long…

Finally, Snugglepuppy (A love song) by Sandra Boynton is the perfect way to sing your mini-me to sleep.  It’s true, the important message in this book doesn’t take long, but it is well worth conveying at any time of day. Loudly. So that the neighbours can hear. And develop a deep-seated envy of your wonderful connection with your young fleshling.  And wish were half the parent you are.

Please feel free to comment and share any other wonderful bedtime books that you feel should be added to the list.

Finally, today is Roald Dahl Day…you may wish to celebrate by eating copious amounts of quality chocolate.  Or perhaps a giant peach.  I wish to celebrate by sharing this quote from the man himself – about the value of bookshelves.

Until next time,

Bruce.