Challenge Checkpoint #2: Halfway Through 2017

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It’s halfway through the year already (*insert cliched statement about how time flies and where did the year go here*) and therefore it is time to review where I’m at with my various reading challenges.  Let’s have at it!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017 – COMPLETE!

Hurrah! I signed on at Pike’s Peak level – or twelve books – for this challenge this year and I am happy to say that I have now scaled to those dizzying heights!  You can check out the books I read here.

however…

since some of the books on the list are a little thin and I haven’t yet got through all the books I wanted to finish for this challenge when I signed on, I’m going to extend my goal and try for Mount Blanc level – 24 books by the end of the year.  This *should* be manageable, but I’ll have to really focus on getting those books read.

Epistolary Challenge – Progress Made!

10 Epistolary Books To Add To Your Winter Reading List

I feel like I’ve made some progress on this one in the last few months.  I’ve also acquired some epistolary novels in print copy or as review copies on Netgalley so I think this challenge is looking up. There’s no end goal or number of books to have read for this challenge, so I’m just seeing how I go at the moment.

Colour Coded Challenge – One Category to Go!

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This was never going to be a challenge that I failed, but I’m well ahead of schedule here.  I’ve only got the final category to go – a book with a pattern or rainbow on the cover – to complete the challenge, but I might extend myself and try to find more to fit the “any other colour” category.

Popsugar Challenge – Charging Ahead!

I’ve managed eighteen out of the 52 categories for this one and I’ve tried to really focus on this challenge in the last three months.  There are a few categories that I could really fit most of my books into (eg: a book published in 2017) and some that I can’t imagine I’m going to get done (eg: a book that’s more than 800 pages).  The trickiest part about this challenge is remembering to refer back to the categories each time I read a book.  Perhaps I should print out the categories now I have printer ink…..

Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge – stalled

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I’ve read one book to contribute to this challenge since the last update.  That means I’ve got three categories to go.  Doable.  Again, I just have to keep the categories in mind as I’m reading.

Have you signed up for any reading challenges this year?  How are you going?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Keep in a Cold, Dark Place: Good Advice for Potatoes and Monsters…

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Today’s middle grade creepy, action tale features a brilliant cautionary tale for those who like to keep unusual pets at home.   We received Keep in a Cold, Dark Place by Michael F. Stewart from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Reaching for her dream, Limpy unleashes a cute, fluffy, NIGHTMARE …

Keep in a cold, dark place. That’s what’s written like some ancient law on every bag of potatoes the family farms. And it’s where Limpy fears she will always remain.

It’s also carved on a box of spheres she discovers in the cellar. Spheres that hatch.

Cute at first, the creatures begin to grow. Then the chickens disappear. The cat is hunted. And something sets the barn ablaze. To survive, Limpy will need to face her greatest fear. The whole family will. Or they may end up in a cold, dark place indeed.

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Limpy is the only daughter in her family and was unlucky enough to have her mother die while giving birth to her.  Her father is so stricken by grief that he keeps a potato-sack effigy of his dead wife in their home, her brothers are alternately bullying and selectively mute and Limpy wants nothing more than to escape her dreary existence and go to art school far away from their failing potato farm.  After discovering a strange box in the potato cellar, Limpy begins to hope that maybe her impossible dream isn’t so unlikely after all…but at the same time, she may have just unleashed an unholy terror onto the farm that could be the end of her broken family.

I thoroughly enjoyed this original and layered middle grade horror-action story. Other reviewers have compared the story to the film Gremlins and there are certainly shades of that fun film in the parts of the book relating to the “pets” that Limpy discovers, but in addition to that, Stewart has crafted an emotional story about grief, moving on and coping with change that is forced upon you.  There’s a definite atmosphere of oppression and depression that emanates from the descriptions of the farm and the town in general and the reader can definitely understand Limpy’s deep need for escape.  The depictions of Limpy’s family life were, at times, difficult to read as the grief and anger of her father, particularly, is raw and toxic despite the passing of time.

When the creatures that Limpy discovers stop being so cute and fluffy in favour of being more scaly and rampaging, the book alternates between bursts of chaotic action and poignant personal discoveries, as Limpy and her family face their deepest fears in order to save themselves.  Part of the emotional draw at the end of the story, I think, depends on the fact that Limpy is the only girl in this part of the story, and it is her older brothers and father (as well as some male neighbours) that have to put aside their bravado and acknowledge those things that make them frightened and hold them back.

I love that the author has selected a monster that isn’t so common in children’s literature, or “monster” stories generally, so the book provides an opportunity for young readers to discover a legend that they may not have encountered before.  I would highly recommend this book to adventurous young readers who enjoy action and fantasy elements blended with real-life problems.

I’m submitting this one for the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017 in the brown category.  Check out my progress toward the challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Fi50 Reminder and Double Dip Review

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It’s that time of the month again – Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday!  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

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Good luck!


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I don’t know about you but I’m all chocolated out after Easter, so I’ll be opting for a savoury snack to accompany my musings about one middle grade sci-fi comedy novel and one YA coming of age tale.  Grab your snack and let’s nosh on!

First up we have The Broken Bridge by Phillip Pullman which we received from PanMacmillan Australia for review.  This is a re-release of the novel which was first published in 1994 and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At 16, Ginny finds that her love of painting connects her to the artistic Haitian mother she never knew and eases the isolation she feels as the only mixed-race teen in her Welsh village. When she learns she has a half-brother by her father’s first marriage, her world is shattered. Ginny embarks on a quest for the truth that will allow her to claim her artistic heritage–and face her father.

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Dip into it for…

…a solid family drama with authentic characters and believable problems.  Ginny is a resilient young woman with a strong desire to be an artist like her mother was, but is plagued by the usual stressors and angst that most teens fall victim to at sometime or other during adolescence.  She has the added problem of trying to catch hold of a solid identity as a girl with a Welsh father and Haitian mother while living in an almost all-white village.  The secrets hinted at in the blurb are revealed slowly and by about a third of the way through the book I began to share Ginny’s bewilderment about what on major hidden aspect she might find out about her past next.  The pacing is well done, allowing the reader to get a grasp on Ginny, her friends and the general feel of her hometown before throwing in the confusion of multiple family secrets.  Kudos to Pullman also for creating a social worker character who is actually human, rather than overbearing, cold-hearted and disconnected or patronising.

Don’t dip if…

…you want simple resolutions to easily-solved problems.  Every story has two sides here, even that of the villainous Joe Chicago.

Overall Dip Factor

This is an engaging coming of age story that paints family breakdown, death and abuse in a believable light without resorting to gratuitous teen melodrama.  By the end of the book the reader can appreciate how Ginny has matured in her outlook despite not having all the answers about how she will present herself in the world.  I enjoyed this book for its authentic portrayal of a young person carving out a place for herself in her family and in the world.

Next we have How to Outsmart a Billion Robot Bees, the second in the Genius Factor books featuring Nate and Delphine, by Paul Tobin.  We received our copy from Bloomsbury Australia for review and we will be submitting this one for the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 in the category of a book with a red spine and the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017 AND my Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge in the category of something you’d take on a hunt.  I reckon a billion robot bees would be pretty handy.  You can check on my progress for all the challenges I’m undertaking this year here.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s Friday the 13th again, and for sixth grade genius Nate Bannister, that means doing three more not-so-smart things to keep life interesting. But he has bigger problems than his own experiments. His nemesis, the Red Death Tea Society, is threatening to unleash a swarm of angry bees on the city of Polt if Nate doesn’t join their ranks. But then a new group of people with murky intentions shows up — the League of Ostracized Fellows — and they want Nate as their own, too. To top it off, he’s convinced there’s a spy in his very own school.

Nate must once again team up with his new, resourceful, friend Delphine to save the day. They’ll need the help of Nate’s crazy gadgets, such as his talking car Betsy and super-powered pets Bosper the Scottish terrier and Sir William the gull, if they hope to see another Friday the 13th. Because they might be battling more than just sting-happy bees and villains with a penchant for tea this time around.

Dip into it for… billion robot bees

…silliness, wild inventions and bee stings in sensitive places.  I do enjoy the quirky tone and dry yet silly humour that Tobin has created in these books.  There is a certain imagery conjured up by his writing that is truly giggleworthy.  Nate and Delphine are also a fun pair and the introduction of Melville – a friendly robot bee adopted by Delphine – adds to the action in this installment.  Bosper, Nate’s genetically modified talking dog stole the show for me in this book however – something about his manner of speaking just cracked me up every time.  The plot of this one seemed a lot more straightforward than in the first book despite the inclusion of the socially awkward League of Ostracised Fellows and everybody, including the jealous Betsy the car, had a role to play in saving Polt from bee-mageddon: The Sting-en-ing.

Don’t dip if…

…you are after fast-paced action.  The one quarrel I have with these stories is that the quirky humour, when added to the action sequences, slows down the pace of the story interminably.  My edition clocked in at 340ish pages and by about halfway I was ready for the resolution to start coming into play.  While the humour is a massively important part of these books, the constant banter does really slow things down when it feels like things should be speeding up.

Overall Dip Factor

I can’t remember why I didn’t finish the first book in this series, but I think it was something to do with the pacing and a lag in the middle.  This book does suffer from the same ailment in my opinion, but I got a lot further along in this story before I really felt the lag, compared to the first book.  Nate and Delphine are so likable and the style of humour so enjoyable that I would still pick up a third in the series, but I would be hoping that the story overall would move a bit quicker.

Right, I’m ready for chocolate again after that.  Have you read either of these books?  Do you like a bit of silly, quirky comedy?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

YAhoo! It’s a #LoveOzYA Review: Frogkisser!

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Frogkisser! 

Who could go past a title with such an alluring and obvious exclamation mark in the title?

Not us, that’s for sure.

Especially when it is penned by Australian YA and fantasy powerhouse Garth Nix.  We received a copy of Frogkisser! from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The Last Thing She Needs Is a Prince.

The First Thing She Needs Is Some Magic.

Poor Princess Anya. Forced to live with her evil stepmother’s new husband, her evil stepstepfather. Plagued with an unfortunate ability to break curses with a magic-assisted kiss. And forced to go on the run when her stepstepfather decides to make the kingdom entirely his own.

Aided by a loyal talking dog, a boy thief trapped in the body of a newt, and some extraordinarily mischievous wizards, Anya sets off on a Quest that, if she plays it right, will ultimately free her land-and teach her a thing or two about the use of power, the effectiveness of a well-placed pucker, and the finding of friends in places both high and low.

With Frogkisser!, acclaimed bestselling author Garth Nix has conjured a fantastical tale for all ages, full of laughs and danger, surprises and delights, and an immense population of frogs. It’s 50% fairy tale, 50% fantasy, and 100% pure enjoyment from start to finish.

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Although Nix’s work is often touted as YA, it fits just as neatly into the plain old fantasy category, to be enjoyed by readers of all ages.  Frogkisser! is no different in this regard, for while it features a reasonably young protagonist, it’s packed full of adult characters (temporarily transformed into animals and otherwise) and is reminiscent of the work of Terry Pratchet and Piers Anthony (although much less punny and of much higher quality than the latter).

Anya is the second-eldest princess in her castle which is ruled over by her stepmother and stepstepfather after the death of both her parents…at different times…which explains why she has two stepparents.  Her older sister Morven is due to inherit the kingdom of Trallonia and become ruler when she comes of age, but is reasonably vacuous and distracted by handsome princes, and their stepstepfather, the evil Duke, is using his sorcery to keep her that way so that he can take over the kingdom.  Anya, being another roadblock for the megalomaniacal Duke, leaves on a quest to transform one of Morven’s suitors, Prince Denholm, back from the frog form into which he has been spelled, and thus avoids (by a slim margin) being murdered in her bed.

The story features all the types of characters you’d expect from a comedy-fantasy, with talking royal dogs (my favourites), a thief-turned-into-a-newt, an otter turned into a human-otter-thing, good wizards, retired wizards, dwarves, giants, thieves and witches, among others.  The tone is light throughout, even during the suspenseful parts, and doused with dry humour (if it’s possible to be doused with dryness, that is).  The plot is quite episodic as these stories often are, with Anya having to meet and overcome a variety of quirky stumbling blocks along her road toward the ingredients for frog-transforming lip balm.

The best thing about this book is that Anya, initially, is completely out for number one – in a self-focused, rather than self-centred way – and along the way she must ponder whether or not it is worth it for her to get involved in the bigger issues facing the kingdoms and their citizens.  Issues about justice in governance, the rules of succession and the obligations of richer people to poorer people, for instance. Underlying the entertainment factors of fantasy and humour in the story is a subtle exploration of privilege, and the responsibilities (if any) that the more privileged in society have toward those without power and without the means to gain agency in their own lives.  Nix has been a bit clever here, popping such a topical issue neatly into a fun and fantastic jaunt through another world.

Tropes about princesses are both reinforced and turned on their head in the story, with Anya’s and Morven’s paths diverging, but in ways that make sense for the respective characters.  I actually understood Morven’s vibe to an extent, because we have our own Prince Maggers who turns up on our back deck most days to regale us with delightful tunes.

I enjoyed reading this story because of the familiarity of the humor and fantasy elements and the original, yet slightly expected, characters.  I mean, you can’t really have a fantasy quest without at least one animal transformed into a human or vice versa, can you? Having said that, Gerald the Herald (all of them) gave me a good chuckle every time he/she/they appeared. Frogkisser! is certainly a change of pace from Nix’s Abhorsen series but at the same time another worthy addition to Australian fantasy and YA writing.

I will be submitting this one for the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017.  You can check out my progress toward my reading challenges herehere!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

The Case of the Deepdean Vampire: A Mini Mystery…

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It’s time to check back in with everyone’s favourite girlish detectives, Daisy and Hazel, in this second novella (but fourth-and-a-half offering in the series), The Case of the Deepdean Vampire by Robin Stevens.  I’m very glad that these novellas exist because they at least keep me in touch with the series given that I’m now three books behind since the announcement of an April 6th release date for Cream Buns and Crime, an anthology of Daisy and Hazel short stories.  Anyhow, “just keep plodding along” is my motto for these books, so here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Of all the mysteries that Hazel and I have investigated, the Case of the Deepdean Vampire was one of the strangest. It was not a murder, which was a pity – but I did solve it very cleverly, and so I decided it ought to be written down, so that other people could read it and be impressed.

Camilla Badescu is in the fifth form, and has pale skin, dark hair and red lips. She comes from Romania (which is practically Transylvania). She doesn’t eat at meals. And she seemed to have an unhealthy influence over another pupil, Amy Jessop. Now, I do not believe in vampires – I am the Honourable Daisy Wells, after all. But when I heard the rumour that Camilla was seen climbing head-first down a wall, I knew it was time to investigate…

Much like The Case of the Blue Violet, the other novella in this series, The Case of the Deepdean Vampire is a bite-sized snack of a mystery, narrated by Daisy, rather than Hazel, who is the narrator of the full length novels.  In this particular novella, Daisy recounts her triumphant solving of a case that has the Deepdean girls all of a dither: is Camilla really a vampire? And if not, how can one explain the, frankly, supernatural behaviour that she has been exhibiting of late?  Of course Daisy, being a natural skeptic, manages to confound any latent whisperings of vampirism by performing some quite spectacular physical feats and making the links that others have failed to notice.

I have to say that I didn’t find this one quite as engaging as a short story as the Blue Violet, simply because the premise was hinged on a supernatural phenomenon and readers of this series will know that supernatural happenings are not an accepted part of the deal.  From that standpoint then, the mystery could only have a perfectly ordinary explanation and when it came it wasn’t quite as exciting or tricky as I was hoping it might be.  I felt a little as if there hadn’t been enough clues left out for canny readers to solve this one themselves, so wasn’t quite as invested in the reveal as I may have otherwise been.

So while not the most gripping of the girls’ adventures so far, this is still a fun interlude between books for fans of Daisy and Hazel and the Detective Society.

I’m submitting this book for the Colour Coded Challenge 2017, progress toward which you can see here.

Until next time,

Bruce