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

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

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

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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

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

penguin bloom

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

Then there’s this atmospheric and creepy little number…

white is for witching

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

And then there’s Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw…

strange practice

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

Then there’s Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans…

wed wabbit

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

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

cool japan guide

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

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

mighty jack and the goblin king

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

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

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

TBR Friday: Greenglass House

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TBR Friday

I’m struggling to keep the momentum up this last month for the Mount TBR Challenge 2017, but I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve finally knocked over Greenglass House by Kate Milford which has been on my TBR list since I pre-ordered it in 2014.  Never mind that it took two years to arrive, but that’s another story.  Let’s crack on.

greenglass house

Ten Second Synopsis:

Milo and his parents are settling in for Christmas at their historical inn when a collection of strangers arrive unannounced for a prolonged stay. At first it seems the travellers aren’t connected but after Milo and his friend Meddy begin investigating, it appears that all of these disparate people are at Greenglass House for the same reason.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Technically since mid-2014, physically since October 2016.  See below for details.

Acquired:

I first put this on pre-order at the Book Depository back in mid 2014, when it was originally released.  I put the pre-order on the paperback, which was releasing in the middle of 2015 because I’m cheap and  I figured I could wait that long.  Then the release date got pushed out to September of 2015.  I was tetchy, but accepted this.  THEN the release date got pushed out to September 2016!  It arrived in October 2016.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

Because it only arrived seven months ago.  Obvs.  Also, it’s quite hefty, so I had to find make time to fit it in.

Best Bits:

  • Greenglass House is a hefty, prolonged mystery.  The mystery is drawn out and is also quite cerebral, since the players in the mystery are confined to one house in bad weather.  The story does has some echoes of the golden age of crime fiction about it, but since no crime has been committed (at least at first), it also has the feel of a fun, imaginative adventure game.  I’ve heard it compared to The Westing Game and there is definitely a similarity in the plotting, but Greenglass House doesn’t have the urgency or high stakes of that book and so is a bit cosier overall.
  • Tabletop roleplay gaming is a big feature of the story, with Milo and Meddy taking on characters as they solve the mystery.  Milo’s blackjack/escaladeur character, Negret, allows Milo to think outside the box and take risks that Milo himself normally wouldn’t, while Meddy’s Sirin, a scholiast, or invisible angel type character has a great significance to the story that didn’t strike me until close to the end of the book.
  • Because there are only two child characters in a house of adults, the book avoids annoying middle grade tropes and gets down to brass tacks as the kids use all their cunning and game-smarts to uncover the adults’ secrets.
  • The adult characters tell stories throughout the book, so we are treated to stories within the greater story and you can be sure each of these stories drops some clues about the adults who tell them and secrets they might be hiding.
  • The story, house and myths about the area feel like they could really be true, which adds a sense of realism to the magical realism.
  • Milo’s parents are ordinary people – hooray!  It’s so rare to have parents in middle grade stories that are (a) present (b) completely normal (as opposed to being gods, magicians, spies or generally not what their children think they are) and (c) involved in their child’s life.  I also liked that Milo is adopted, which plays something of a role in the story, but isn’t the big clincher – just a part of who he is.
  • The book is set at Christmas, but has very little to do with Christmas, and so is a perfect choice for when you want that Christmas time feeling without having to actually read about Christmas.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • Greenglass House is a hefty, prolonged mystery.  That means that the pacing is quite slow and discoveries are rationed out over the course of the book.  While I enjoyed the read and was absorbed throughout, I won’t be picking up the sequel straight away.  I’ll need some time to decompress before I become sucked into the second mystery in the series.
  • There is a twist toward the end of the book that I didn’t see coming and although I came to terms with it reasonably quickly, I felt a little betrayed that the author had taken such a route when the rest of the book seemed so authentic and grounded (barring the smugglers, strangers, thieves, spies and customs officials).  I’ll have to wait and see how it pans out in the second book before I make too many judgments though.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Yes, because it is highly unlikely that I would have ever borrowed such a hefty book from the library.  To balance that out though, I’m not sorry I had to wait so long before getting to it.

Where to now for this tome?

The permanent shelf…for now.

I’m also submitting Greenglass House for the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 in category #35: a book set in a hotel.  You can check out my progess toward all my 2017 challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Shelfies: My Christmas, Unwrapped #Whographica # DoctorWho

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Since we’re among friends, I think it’s safe to make you all jealous by telling you how many books I got for Christmas.  Are you ready?  I think you’ll be shocked and amazed…

I got……

One.

Yup, you read that right.  One single, solitary book for Christmas.  But am I crying? No siree, Bob!  Because the book I received is an absolute cracker of a read – and best of all, I didn’t even know it existed!

So what was this intriguing, involving and all around excellent book?  Whographica: An Infographic Guide to Space and Time by Simon Guerrier, Steve O’Brien and Ben Morris.

whographica

Now, if  you aren’t a fan of Doctor Who you can probably switch off now because I’m not sure you’ll appreciate how kick-ass this book really is.  If you are still reading, I will assume that you too are a fan of all things Who, so here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Captivating, intriguing, beautiful and strange, Whographica explores the rich universe of Doctor Who like no book before it. Through creative visualisations, infographics, charts, maps and more, it offers a unique introduction to the extraordinary worlds of the show – from the Doctor’s family tree to the strangest weapons in the universe; from a star chart showing the exact co-ordinates of Gallifrey to a flow diagram of allegiances between Daleks and Cybermen throughout history.

Bursting with colour, expert knowledge, and fun, Whographica will delight new and long-term fans alike. And, like the show it celebrates, it will make you see the world in an entirely new way.

If you, like me, are a fan of Doctor Who and would like to extend your Who-related knowledge, but lack the time to watch every episode ever made or read long nonfiction texts about the series, its creators, its social impact and other bits of Who-minutiae, you should really get your paws on this book.  Every single page in it has an infographic about some fascinating aspect of the show – from the Doctors themselves to the actors who played them, from when and where particular episodes were screened, to the frequency of words used in their titles, from the comparative appearances of cybermen to daleks, to the percentages of male-to-female job roles in the production team – this book will tell you every little thing you ever needed to know about Doctor Who.

Best of all, for someone like me who likes a bit of variation in illustrative style, the infographic designs range widely.  There are some infographics packed full of graphs and bits and bobs, like the pages devoted to each specific Doctor:

whograhpica-two

Note the pictograph showing relative heights of each doctor!! There are geographical infographics galore – this particular one shows all the countries in which 50th Anniversary episode The Day of the Doctor was simultaneously screened:

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There are many infographics devoted to the Doctors’ companions, like this one about Sarah Jane Smith:

whographica-three

There are plenty of infographics that just have interesting facts that you may never have considered.  This one, for instance, names the six episodes in which every speaking character, not including the Doctor and his companion/s, ends up dead:

whograhpica-four

Don’t be too downhearted though, because this infographic is a companion to an earlier one, which shows all the episodes in which everyone lives.

For us bookish folk, there’s even a graphic showing the dominant colours on the covers of all the published Doctor Who novelisations!

Truly, I was immediately engrossed in this nifty, satisfyingly chunky book as soon as I unwrapped it and I have had it on my shelfside table ever since.  I will no doubt be dipping into this one for a long time to come yet and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who considers themselves part of the Doctor Who fandom.

Did the Annual Gift Man leave any book-shaped packages under your tree last year?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Mondays are for Murder: The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding

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It’s our final Monday Murder for the year, so I thought I’d go a bit festive and bring you Agatha Christie’s The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, a collection of six short stories with all but one featuring Poirot.  The odd one out features Miss Marple in a remarkably brief appearance.  The book also has a foreword by Agatha Christie, which I found delightful, recounting, as it does, Christie’s memories of Christmas time as a youngster.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Agatha Christie’s seasonal Poirot and Marple short story collection.

First came a sinister warning to Poirot not to eat any plum pudding… then the discovery of a corpse in a chest… next, an overheard quarrel that led to murder… the strange case of the dead man who altered his eating habits… and the puzzle of the victim who dreamt his own suicide.

What links these five baffling cases? The little grey cells of Monsieur Hercule Poirot!

the-adventure-of-the-christmas-pudding

Plot Summary:

The six stories contained herein are the titular Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, The Mystery of the Spanish Chest, The Under Dog, Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds, The Dream and Greenshaw’s Folly (which features Miss Marple).  All but the first feature murders being solved ingeniously by either Poirot or Marple.  The first story, however, is about the theft of a priceless jewel.  

The Usual Suspects:

As there are so many different stories here, I can’t really go into detail about the suspects, but you can rest assured that the stories include all the old favourites, from long lost brothers returned from the African continent, to people pretending to be someone else, to people in disguise, to people hoping to inherit the murdered person’s worldly goods.  

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Once again, specific details vary, but for the Poirot stories, our favourite Belgian is generally called in by the police or an interested party, does his questioning bit, and then casually reveals the killer before the story abruptly finishes.  Similarly, in Greenshaw’s Folly, Miss Marple only experiences proceedings second-hand, yet still manages to pick motive, method and murderer, having never laid eyes on the scene or the players.

 

Overall Rating:

poison clip artpoison clip artpoison clip artpoison clip art

 

 

 

 

 

Four poison bottles for the cheery thought of a traditional Christmas party peopled by thieves and murderers.

It’s been a while since I read a Christie mystery so it was jolly good fun to jump back in with Poirot and Miss Marple and kick around some theories about who done it.  I really enjoyed the fact that these were short stories too, because I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with end of year busyness just now and the short tales meant that I didn’t have to remember names and roles across a whole novel.  I did get close to the answers in a number of the stories, guessing part, if not the whole solution, which is always satisfying and cause for a smug internal smile.  I also found it interesting that the TV adaption of Greenshaw’s Folly that I saw earlier this year (or it could have even been last year) was much more in depth than the story here.  It’s put me in just the right frame of mind to gear up for the The Murder of Roger Ackroyd that gets shown on telly here every Christmas Eve (or maybe the day before Christmas Eve).  I’d definitely recommend this if you’re looking for a mildly festive foray into murder in short, easily-digestible chunks.

Finishing this book is especially satisfying because I pulled it from my TBR shelf and so….that’s another chink from Mt TBR!

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Until next time,

Bruce

On For Young and Old: Activity books from wicked to wonderful…

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If you (or your mini-fleshlings) are already twiddling your thumbs and the school holidays haven’t even started yet, allow me to avail you of some fantastic activity books that will give your thumbs, and indeed the rest of your hand-based digits, something to do.  Let’s start with something for the grownups, shall we, with…

The Wicked Plants Colouring Book (Amy Stewart and Briony Morrow-Cribbs)

which we received for review from Scribe Publications

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From Goodreads:

A colouring book with a dark side

In The Wicked Plants Colouring Book, Amy Stewart and artist Briony Morrow-Cribbs bring colouring enthusiasts the 40 most menacing botanical atrocities from their New York Times bestseller Wicked Plants. Morrow-Cribbs’s exquisite etchings are now finely rendered colouring-book art and are paired with details from the original book.

Drawing on history, medicine, science, and legend, and written with Stewart’s trademark wit, each wonderfully creepy spread offers a fascinating portrait of the evildoers of the plant world, from the vine that ate the South (kudzu) to the weed that killed Lincoln’s mother (white snakeroot) to the world’s deadliest seed (rosary pea).

If this time of year generally has you making a list (of people who have wronged you during the past year) and checking it twice, then you are definitely the sort of person for whom the colouring of deadly plants could be a relaxing and educational experience.  I was woefully unaware of the original nonfiction title that spawned this black and white spin-off, but Wicked Plants is now definitely on my TBR list.

As well as providing some gorgeous and detailed line drawings of the aforementioned floral evildoers for you to wile away the hours colouring in, each plant picture is accompanied by a short paragraph of text explaining the specific wickedness of said plant and providing tidbits of scientific information about it.  The cover star of the book, in case you are wondering, is the Betel Nut, a highly addictive nut prized for its chewability, but a chief cause of mouth cancer and asthma.  A small selection of the 40 delightfully deadly plants included here are the innocent-seeming Water Hyacinth (waterway clogger extraordinaire), the highly toxic Death Camas (well, the name did warn you), and the completely-poisonous-except-for-one-tiny-bit (can you guess which one?) Yew.  The plants are listed in alphabetical order, with a foreword from the author at the beginning, and some blank pages at the back for you to draw your own plants.

I think the most charming thing about this particular activity book is that it bears a “This book belongs to” stamp at the front, so that budding poisoners can ensure that nobody makes off with their tome of flowering death.  If you are, or you know, a green thumb who is also quite at home with the dark side of plant life, this would make the perfect gift.  Other than that, perhaps you could keep it beside your list of enemies, for when you need a light break.

Next we have one for the middle-sized fleshlings of your acquaintance…

Doodles Activity Book 

which we received from Allen & Unwin for review

doodles-activity-book

Doodles Activity Book Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November 2016. RRP: $16.99

From Allen & Unwin:

A hilariously funny activity book filled with wacky drawing ideas. DRAW-SNAP-SEND-LAUGH – submit your drawing directly to the interactive animated comedy series Doodles, now screening on ABC3.

Take a monster selfie, untangle a robot’s wiring or create your own UFO in this comic and appealing activity book with loads of child appeal. Full of hilarious drawing activities, funny dot-to-dots, zany find-a-words, wacky mazes and other mad-cap activities sure to spark a child’s creativity, this book from the creators of the successful television show of the same name will be a winner for Christmas.

The interactive television show, Doodles, in which kids’ drawings are turned into micro movies is now screening on ABC ME. Kids can submit their drawings to the television show by following the instructions in the activity book.

As with the previous title, I had absolutely no idea that this book is based on a TV show currently screening on ABCMe (formerly ABC3).   At first glance, this book doesn’t appear to be anything too different or special when it comes to drawing prompt-type books for kids, but having had a quick look at the website for the show, which encourages kids to send in their drawings, which are then made into short animations, this activity book starts to make a lot more sense. I would definitely encourage you to use the book in conjunction with having a goggle at the show, to provide inspiration beyond what’s provided in the pages here.  Don’t panic if you think you’ll forget the website for the show – all the social media addresses are included in the book – and there’s even a little instruction page detailing how kids can submit their drawings for the show.

The book itself is a satisfying A4 size, and divided into sections based on different themes – dinosaurs, superheroes, aliens, technology and robots, and magic and fantasy.  Personally, I think this is a great idea because not only does it allow the user to flick to whatever interests them first, but it but it also provides a focused prompt and allows users to practice one particular type of drawing before moving on to the next.  As well as lots of doodling prompts, each section has a range of other activities, such as colouring by numbers, decoding puzzles, crosswords, funny labelling activities and mad libs style fill-in-the-blank activities, so even if your mini-fleshling isn’t a drawing desperado, they should find something to keep them busy inside this book.  

The final section of the book is a “Make Your Own Movie” chapter, in which users are guided through the process of creating a story from start to finish.  Page prompts detail how to create characters, decide on a conflict and push the story through to an exciting ending.  This is a great way to keep the mini-fleshlings busy for more than just a few minutes, as they plan and create a story, rather than just fill in an activity page.

On closer inspection, I’m pretty impressed with the quality of the prompts found in the Doodles Activity book.  If you are looking for a way to get your kids away from their screens without cancelling all screen time, this book could be a great middle point as it uses the TV show as a starting point to fire kids’ imaginations.

And finally, we have one for the whole family, whether you’re snowed in or sweating it out…

The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book (Andy Seed & Scott Garrett)

which we received for review from Bloomsbury Australia

anti-boredom-christmas

From Bloomsbury Australia:

Warning: This book will cure all boredom!

Christmas is everyone’s favourite time of year. But it can also get a bit boring from time to time. Those long journeys to see Aunty Periwinkle can seem to drag on forever! But look no further because Andy Seed’s Anti-boredom Christmas Book will cure all those Christmas boredom blues!

Find out how to say snow in 16 different languages; discover who banned Christmas carols; act out your own wacky routine of the Twelve Days of Christmas… and much much more!

This fantastically festive witty and wacky book is bursting full of laugh-out-loud facts, games, quizzes plus heaps more for hours of fun. Packed full of Scott Garrett’s hilarious artwork, this book is sure to keep you entertained for hours of festive fun! 

“So how is this different from other Christmas activity books, Bruce?” I hear you ask.  Well, for a start, The Anti-Boredom Christmas book is far less focused on using the book as the starting point for the activity, rather encouraging people, both young and old, to share their ideas, likes and dislikes about all things Christmas.  Divided into a range of handy sections which cover everything from snowfall to festive music to Christmas around the world, each section features jokes to tell, objects or events to rate, challenges to complete individually or with family or friends, riddles to solve, games to play and contentious topics (like whether real or fake Christmas trees are superior) to debate.  My favourite bit (being a bit of a nerdy nerd) was discovering a list of Toy of the Year winners from 1965 to 2015, although I had a bit of a chuckle at a collection of real and made up festive place names from around the world (did you know the US boasts a town named Santa Claus?), and I thought hard over a would-you-rather game involving Christmas films.  The only downside to the book is that it is quite Northern Hemisphere-centric, and even Britain-centric, and younger Aussie readers may not quite get the references to Pantos and such.  

The book is quite a small size, which makes it super-handy for travelling, but ensures that the text is packed onto the page, so a quick flick through really gives the impression that there is plenty to get one’s teeth into to ward off holiday boredom.  It’s also beautifully formatted so that you can just open it at a random page and have a go at whatever you happen to land on, be it joke-telling, snowflake crafting or playing a Christmas-themed guessing game.  I think the best part about this book is that most of the activities within it beg to be shared with others, encouraging interaction rather than isolation on screen or over page.  If you are going on a long boring train, plane or car trip, or expect some drop-outs to your Wifi this holiday season, The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book is a great solution for when you need ten festive minutes to fill.

Hopefully one of these books has taken your fancy and we on the Shelf have once again assisted you with your gift-buying needs.  Or, you know, just helped you add a few extra books to your teetering TBR pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Enticing YA” Edition…

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If you are fan of young adult literature, be it quirky-cute romance, gripping historical fiction, paranormal menace or angsty growing-up tale, you will no doubt want to saddle up and ride with us today.  I have four enticing YA titles for you, each with its own niche audience, so scroll on down and see what you can round up!

Hotel for the Lost (Suzanne Young)

*We received a copy of Hotel for the Lost from Simon & Schuster Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  hotel-for-the-lost

Audrey and her brother Daniel are being driven to their grandmother’s house, to take a break after their mother’s untimely death three months earlier. After stopping for the night at a hotel, the family dynamic seems more functional…but that’s only the first of a lot of strange things that are going on at the Hotel Ruby.

Muster up the motivation because…

…There’s a lot of ghosty goodness going on in this one that will have you guessing ahead to try and figure out the mystery before the big reveal.  I happened to be reading this one around Halloween time and it was charmingly atmospheric, what with its big gothic hotel in a lonely setting, odd nightly parties and collection of delightfully (and in some cases, creepily) bizarre guests.  Audrey is stuck down a well of grief and guilt since her mother’s death, while her brother Daniel is surly and their father seems to have mentally checked out.  On arrival  at the Ruby, things start looking up, but it isn’t long before Audrey starts to notice cracks in the hotel’s posh facade, not least of which being the overlord-like attitude of the concierge.  As Audrey meets more guests and her father becomes more and more plugged in to the family, Audrey decides that things might be looking up and it won’t be so hard to hang out for a few days until the family checks out, despite a few hard-to-explain incidents.  As ghostly, paranormal stories go, this one has plenty of threads to both entice and confuse the reader, with clues about the mystery dropped left, right and centre: there’s the mystery of the invitation-only nightly party, the tragic history of the building, the gossip about some of the guests and the strange flashes of vision that Audrey is experiencing.  I know I was hurriedly trying to piece together the tidbits of information in order to figure out what was going on before the reveal.  I suspect that experienced readers of paranormal stories will pick the obvious signs early on, but there were definitely a few aspects of the reveal that I did not see coming.  I was quite impressed with the ending that Young chose to go with here, because it is a bit more ambiguous and dark than I would have expected.  Overall, this was a fun read, albeit a tad predictable in places, that will satisfy those looking for an atmospheric story that will give a whole new meaning to the term “life of the party”.

Brand it with:

Complimentary late check-out; all in the family; what goes on below stairs

The Graces (Laure Eve)

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

the-graces

The Graces by Laure Eve. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016. RRP: $19.99

Two Sentence Synopsis: 

River is starting afresh at a new school and like everyone else, is drawn to the Grace siblings like a moth to a flame. When River manages to form a friendship with Summer Grace, her life becomes all that she wants it to be…but are the rumours of a Grace curse true?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a deep exploration of identity, loyalty, belonging and exerting one’s power in the fraught social world of the teenage years.  I didn’t think that I would be pulled in to The Graces as much as I was, but I was quickly won over by the focus on character development and the ways in which people will lie, keep secrets and remake themselves in order to fit in.  Everyone in River’s town believe that the Grace family are witches.  The three Grace siblings – twins, Fenrin and Tahlia, and younger sister Summer – float through school untouched by the problems of the common people, despite rumours of revenge and trouble that may have been dished out to those who defied the Graces in the past.  River, desperate to remake herself in this new environment, is somehow able to find her way into Summer’s good graces, and from there into the Grace family itself.  What she discovers is a tight-knit, exclusionary, possibly paranoid vision of their place in the world – a place she wants to share.  For the most part, this story is one firmly grounded in human relationships – parents exerting their will (and fears) on children, sibling loyalty, friendship defined by secrecy – but towards the end, a more obvious element of fantasy emerges.  I was slightly disappointed by this, because I thought that the character development and psychological twisting and turning between the Grace siblings and River was compelling enough that the story didn’t need any fantastical trappings.  Also, the fantasy element shows the story up as a series-opener, which heightened my disappointment.  I felt that this story had everything it needed to pack a memorable and thought-provoking punch contained within its pages, without having to add anything other-wordly to the story, and I don’t want to see that watered down by a focus in the next book on fantasy, rather than human nature.  Despite that little niggle at the end, I can heartily recommend this to readers of YA who are looking for an examination of human relationships and the price one might be willing to pay in order to be included.

Brand it with:

One of us; On the outer; Believing the rumours

The Lie Tree: Illustrated Edition (Frances Hardinge & Chris Riddell)

*We received a copy of The Lie Tree from PanMacmillan Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the-lie-tree

Faith yearns to take a place alongside her famous scientist father, but is constrained by the social restrictions imposed on women of her time. When the family moves to an island to escape a scandal, Faith takes her chance to assume the mantle of natural scientist over a very strange plant indeed – and finds herself embroiled in a mystery that challenges all the assumptions that her father held dear.

Muster up the motivation because…

…Frances Hardinge is a class apart when it comes to writing for young people.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that her books aren’t really young people’s books at all, but adult-reader-worthy books that happen to feature young protagonists.  Having read plenty of Hardinge’s work before, I knew pretty well what I was in for with The Lie Tree, and that was exactly what I got: absorbing, evocative prose, strong female characters with obvious, yet useful flaws, plot twists, and an atmosphere that perfectly reflected the oppressive situation in which the protagonist finds herself.  Faith is the eldest daughter of an (until-recently) esteemed natural scientist, who finds herself and her family spirited away to a remote island to avoid a scandal related to her father’s work.  After uncovering some of her father’s secrets through slyness and stealth, Faith is presented with an opportunity to observe a mythical plant whose discovery could change the world.  The story, like much of Hardinge’s work, unfolds slowly, with important information drip-fed to the reader.  The historical setting of this particular tale added a great deal to the atmosphere, as did the focus on gender-based restrictions that require Faith to undertake much of her investigation covertly.  This book really is absorbing, playing on ideas about the power of suggestion to create fear and generate a social environment which, already enmeshed in class-based strata and strict observance of propriety, is ripe for the dissemination of falsehood as truth, and opinion as fact.  I received the illustrated edition of the book to review, with illustrations completed by (who other than) Chris Riddell, yet I found that the illustrations didn’t add a great deal to my experience of the book.  Obviously, the illustrations are gorgeous and I enjoyed flicking across a full page line drawing every now and then in such a long book, but the narrative carries itself here, with Hardinge’s narrative imagery working its own magic.  Riddell’s illustrative style is particularly suited to the dour, historical atmosphere of the story however and admittedly, it was fun to see the portrayals of characters whose physical features are as unflattering as their personalities. I would definitely recommend The Lie Tree to those who are already fans of Hardinge’s work, featuring as it does a similar dark and foreboding atmosphere as her recent publications, Cuckoo Song and A Face Like Glass. If you are a fan of historical fiction that carries a touch of the subversive, and are looking for a good mystery with a slightly magical twist, then you will find plenty to entice you with The Lie Tree.

Brand it with:

Keeping one’s enemies close; the stealth-inducing properties of crepe; born to be wild

The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily (Rachel Cohn & David Levithan)

* We received a copy of The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

The Twelve Days of Dash and Llily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016.  RRP: $19.99

The Twelve Days of Dash and Llily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016. RRP: $19.99

Dash is concerned about his relationship with Lily, while Lily is depressed about her grandfather, Christmas and her relationship with Dash. Dash decides to break with tradition and surprise Lily with twelve days of happiness before Christmas to try and get their mutual groove back.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you were a fan of the first book in this series (which I have not read), you will no doubt go ga-ga for this charming, festive offering.  I really wanted to like this one, not least because of the delightful, quirky cover design, but I ended up DNFing at 68 pages.  Romance and romantic relationships are just not my thing in fiction, but I can see why there was so much buzz about the first book in the series.  The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Dash and Lily.  Dash opened this book, and I quickly found his self-deprecating dry humour quite disarming.  I thought that I might actually find myself falling for a romance book!  Then Lily took the helm and I just found her a bit too sheltered for my liking.  When you are nearly 18 and can’t get over the fact that you don’t feel all that Christmassy at Christmas, I think you need to step out of your #firstworldproblems for a moment and appreciate what you’ve got.  I did make the decision to put the book down during one of Lily’s sections, mostly because I didn’t think I could handle reading about such a young-seeming character as an adult reader.  I can certainly see the appeal of the book and the series however and should warn you not to let my curmudgeonly attitude toward unspoiled, innocent souls put you off reading it if you are in the mood for a Christmassy, feelgood story.

Brand it with:

Christmas knits; holiday romance; Dash-ing through the not-snow

Surely there is something amongst these offerings to ignite the YA gleam in your eye and have you rushing out to muster up one of these titles!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Halloween’s Over, You Say? Then it Must Be Time for a Festive Christmas Double-Dip!

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It’s time to break out the fruit mince pies and sugar-crusted almonds and rustle up that Christmas feeling, for today’s double dip is all about everyone’s favourite most stressful time of year.  Luckily, today’s books for mini-fleshlings are not stressful in the least and should actually contribute to the heightening of joy and happiness in your dwelling.  Let’s crack on then, with an Aussie Christmas picture book, Christmas at Home by Claire Saxby and Janine Dawson, which we cheerfully received from Five Mile Press for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Let’s decorate your branches…

The tree is decorated, the presents are wrapped, and the neighbourhood Christmas lights blaze against a warm December sky.

It’s Christmas time at home — the very best time of the year.

An Australian Christmas tale.

Dip into it for…christmas-at-home

…a delightful romp through the lead up to Christmas and Christmas Day itself, that pulls no punches as to how festivities really unfold in a land in which the only snow to be seen is of the type that is sprayed out of cans to fancy up one’s window display.  The text is based on the classic carol, O Christmas Tree, and each page spread focuses on a typical Christmas activity – wrapping presents, visiting neighbourhood light displays, cooking on the barbie, and general family shenanigans.  The illustrations are absolutely fantastic here and I particularly love the way that aspects of contemporary life, such as two lads discussing something on the iPad with grandma, a lady taking a selfie at a light display and dad trying to fly his new remote control helicopter are all present, but peripheral to the main events.  The best bit about this book for me however was the fact that the illustrator has obviously paid close attention to inclusion and representation in creating the characters.  Although the protagonist family are fair, white (and slightly sweaty!) Australians, every scene that depicts other people includes characters who possess a range of skin tones.  Just at a quick glance it is possible to spot an Indian couple, a number of Asian families, a Maori family and a family that, judging by their outfits, may be from West Africa.  There’s even an Inuit family friend who for some reason has chosen to wear traditional cold-weather clothing for reasons that aren’t explained.  Representation aside, there’s plenty going on in each illustrative spread for keen eyed mini-fleshlings to spot.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a “traditional” Christmas story, for this one is a celebration of modern family life.  Other than that, if you aren’t a fan of changing the words to well-known Christmas carols, then this might not be for you.

Overall Dip Factor

This is a story that seems simple at first glance, but has more layers to uncover every time you look through it.  The illustrations, obviously, have much to do with this.  The most memorable page for me is one that notes that on Christmas day, “every place is bursting”.  The pages feature a number of different social groupings, mostly showing families, but also with a few touching asides.  I will admit to getting a little stab in the heart as I noted one of the pictures shows an old lady dressed in jaunty Christmas bonbon hat, putting food out on Christmas themed paper plates for about half a dozen cats.  While the lady herself looks perfectly happy (and there’s no indication that she hasn’t just popped out from family festivities for a moment), I felt like this was a little reminder that others may not be celebrating with a large, jolly social group.  Whatever the case, as well as providing a cheerful Christmas read-aloud for the mini-fleshlings, there are also other aspects of the book that will no doubt start conversations about diversity and how others do things.

Recommended. Especially for those in a cold climate, who no doubt won’t be thinking of us southerners at all as we sweat it out over our Christmassy summer.

Next up we have a fun little boredom-buster for primary school aged kids and beyond.  It’s My Lovely Christmas Book and we received a copy from Bloomsbury Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Bloomsbury:

Have a crafty Christmas this year: cut and glue, make beautiful pages, pockets, frames and other charming creations. Use your creativity to make lists, make notes, write poems, short stories, diary entries and add other things to make it yours. You can draw and colour, write and doodle. This is your book, made by you and for you.

Dip into it for…  my-lovely-christmas-book

…a sweet, creativity-inducing tome that really is as lovely as it claims to be.  The perfect gift for crafty pre-teens (or for yourself, if you rejoice in the anticipation of the days before December 25th), My Lovely Christmas Book is part diary, part photo and memory album, part activity book and part craft kit.  Apart from diary pages themed around each of the twelve days of Christmas, the book is structured so that the reader can flick through and pick the activities that take their fancy – and what a selection of activities there are!  On a quick flick from front to back I spotted mazes, cut-out-and-stick activities to make decorations, gift tags to cut out and use for gift giving, thank-you note templates, places to stick photos, doodling pages and search and find pages.  On a more studied examination, other features include beautiful papers that can be used to wrap small gifts, festive colouring pages, pages that can be cut and folded to make a pocket inside the book for holding special things, little journalling prompts, and a space to plan (or record!) a Christmas menu.  Honestly, it’s so chock-full of interesting things to list, make and do that any parent, upon hearing their offspring whine “I’m bored!” during the Christmas holiday period, could easily just growl, “Go to the book!” and everyone’s problems would be solved.

Don’t dip if…

…you are the kind of person who just cannot bear to write or draw in a book, let alone take to a book with a pair of scissors.  The only downfall I can see with this tome is that it is so aesthetically pleasing, that some readers may not want to spoil that beauty by actually using it as intended.

Overall Dip Factor

I can see this book being a fantastic companion for a young one who loves to create and record, and as a finished product, something that will be kept for years to come – who doesn’t love looking back on their own (often hilarious) jottings from childhood?  I would certainly recommend this as a book to accompany Christmas time travels, to keep that sense of Christmas close even though one is away from home.  Being one of the aforementioned readers who is often unable to deface beautiful books, even if that is their sole purpose, I am in two minds about whether to have a crack at some of the activities myself or leave this one in its pristine state.  You, however, should search this one out immediately – even the grouchiest Grinch will feel a flutter of Christmas cheer on flicking through these lovely pages.

There now.  Aren’t you feeling more festive already?  Well that’s great, because apparently there are only seven and a bit weeks til Christmas.  You’re welcome.

Until next time,

Bruce