A Duet of Quirky Animal Cuteness: Basket Cat and Dog House…

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It’s time to focus in on picture books again and today I have a delightful pair of companion board books from UK illustrator Katie Abey, provided to us by Five Mile Press.  In her own words, Abey admits to filling her work with “puns and crazy animals” – check out her website…it’s puntastic! – and her cheeky, bright appealing illustrations are what prompted us to request today’s titles for perusal – Basket Cat and Dog House.  The two books feature separate stories, but will look like peas in a complimentary pobasket catd on your shelf.

Here is the blurb for Basket Cat from Goodreads:

Basket Cat loves baskets – big baskets and small baskets, tall baskets and even the washing basket! But all Basket Cat wants is a basket of her very own.
Where will she find one?

With a humorous story and amusing artwork this large board book will be enjoyed by children and adults alike!

dog houseAnd here’s what Goodreads has to say about Dog House:


Toby is lost. He knows his dog house is around here somewhere, but he can’t seem to remember where to find it!

Will Toby ever find his way home?

We were immediately drawn to the bold colours of the front covers and the adorably quizzical looks of the animal protagonists and I suspect these features will appeal enormously to the little people at whom these books are pitched.  The younger mini-fleshling demanded the reading of the pair as soon as she laid eyes on them and after due consideration, pronounced Basket Cat her favourite of the two.  This could be because we share the dwelling with a cat of similar features to Basket Cat, while the dog of the dwelling bears little resemblance to the protagonist of Dog House.

And rarely, if ever, ends up in trees.

The stories are fairly simple, but the extra details provided in the illustrations add a level of humour to the short bursts of text.  Basket Cat’s baskety dreams are quite amusing and the cranky faces of the bees disturbed by Toby (the dog) certainly provide some subtle character development that can be pointed out to attentive little ones.  Once again though, as is the case for many picture books featuring animals, facial expressions are everything and Abey seems to have the knack for creating hilarity and changes in emotion with just a few small changes in penstroke.

Can I also mention how much I appreciate the board book format?  As a Bookshelf Gargoyle I spend a lot of time watching helplessly as mini-fleshlings systematically (with intent or otherwise) destroy picture books, so the sturdy, chewable, wipe-worthy format in which these books are presented goes a long way to ease my troubled mind.

I suspect Katie Abey will be one to watch as an up-and-comer in the picture book scene and I will be interested to see what she hatches next, if the quality of these, her debut efforts, are anything to go by.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Shouty Doris interjects during….Lily and the Octopus!

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Shouty Doris interjects

Doris and I are with you today to discuss a new release contemporary novel that features some major elements of magical realism and at least one characterful dog.  As we all know, Shouty Doris is a big mouth  a blabberchops free with her opinions, so I’m warning you now, this review may contain SPOILERS.  You have been warned.

We received a copy of Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Combining the emotional depth of The Art of Racing in the Rain with the magical spirit of The Life of Pi, Lily and the Octopus is an epic adventure of the heart.

When you sit down with Lily and the Octopus, you will be taken on an unforgettable ride.

The magic of this novel is in the read, and we don’t want to spoil it by giving away too many details. We can tell you that this is a story about that special someone: the one you trust, the one you can’t live without.

For Ted Flask, that someone special is his aging companion Lily, who happens to be a dog. Lily and the Octopus reminds us how it feels to love fiercely, how difficult it can be to let go, and how the fight for those we love is the greatest fight of all.

Remember the last book you told someone they had to read? Lily and the Octopus is the next one.

lily and the octopus

So Lily and the Octopus centres around young man and his relationship with his aging dachshund, Lily.  Things are going mediocre-ly for Ted, when he discovers an … octopus… on Lily’s head.

Shouty Doris interjects

Octopus indeed. He’s not fooling anyone.

Yes, well, I’d have to agree with you there, and I don’t think it’s particularly a spoiler to say that the octopus is not a literal octopus but a figurative one, indicative of the fact that Lily is sick.  Possibly life-threateningly sick, as frequently happens with pets of a certain age.  The point is, Ted refers to this …thing.. as an octopus for almost the whole book and even ends up having conversations with it.  Therein lies the magical realism in the story.

Shouty Doris interjects

Therein lies the lunacy more like.  That Ted needs to get out more.  He’s far too co-dependent on that dog if you ask me.  A grown man, too.  

Ted is indeed very invested in his relationship with his dog.  He is in between romantic relationships and on discovering the cephalopodic threat to Lily, begins to withdraw from his friends even more.  As the book continues, we discover more about the back story as to how Ted came to be Lily’s owner, and a previous life-threatening illness that Lily overcame.  We are even privy to his weekly battles with his therapist, Jenny.

Shouty Doris interjects

Why on earth would you waste money on a therapist for whose opinion you are indifferent?  He has more money than sense, that Ted.    Anyone who spends money on inflatable sharks needs their head examined if you ask me.

You’ve brought up a good point there, Doris –

Shouty Doris interjects

All my points are good points. 

– because up until about two-thirds into the story, the only bizarre thing about the book is Ted’s unwillingness to address Lily’s octopus for what it really is.  Once the book hits the two-thirds mark however, the magical realism is ratcheted up a notch and a number of chapters go full allegorical mode as Ted battles his inner demons on a very strange stage indeed.  I shan’t spoil any of that bit for you –

Shouty Doris interjects

Can I, though?

– no – but I found it to be a bit much for my tastes.  It is certainly the most action-packed part of the book and an important turning point for Ted, but by that stage, I knew what the outcome was likely to be, had accepted it, and was just waiting for Ted to do the same.

Shouty Doris interjects

He was very slow on the uptake, wasn’t he?  Everyone knows that any time a cute, cuddly animal appears in a book or film, it’s one hundred per cent certain that it will end up – 

THANKS DORIS!  I think I hear The Bold and the Beautiful starting! I’ll shut the door so we don’t disturb you!

Shouty Doris interjects

*Shuffle, shuffle, creak*  

Alright, Ridge-y boy, come and tell Doris all about it.

Right, now she’s gone, we don’t have to worry about major spoilers.  Although…I have to say that overall, I didn’t particularly connect with Ted as a character, despite his everyman status, apart from the shared experience of pet ownership and the inevitable existential angst – for ourselves or by proxy – with which many of us grapple.  I did find this to be an interesting, if not riveting, read and enjoyed how the author at least took a risk on the magical realism aspects to explore the more depressing parts of human existence and its inevitable finality.  The ending is hopeful and quite charming really, so if you are a fan of subtly humorous ponderings about the looming demise of each of us as individuals, and you love a cute dog story (for Lily truly is a little cutey, with a distinctive voice) then this would be a great pick.

Until next time,

Bruce (and Doris)

 

The Maniacal Book Club Reviews…Captain Pug!

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I hope you’re ready for cuteness overload today because the Maniacal Book Club is pleased to introduce you to an adorable (and hardy!) little protagonist who will likely steal your heart, as well as your jam tarts.  I speak of Captain Pug: The Dog Who Sailed the Seas, who is making his debut in a delightfully illustrated early chapter book by Laura James and Eglantine Ceulemans.  We received a review copy of Captain Pug from Bloomsbury Australia and he has immediately become a favourite of the eldest mini-fleshling in the dwelling.  But let’s find out more about this intrepid Pug!  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Pug is going on a seafaring adventure. He’s had jam tarts for breakfast. He’s wearing a smart sailor suit. There’s just one problem. Pug is afraid of the water!

Captain Pug is the first book in a glorious new illustrated series for fans of Claude and Squishy McFluff.

Captain Pug

How could you not love that sweet little puggy face?  Here’s what the Book Club think:

Guru Dave

maniacal book club guru dave

What does it take to follow one’s dreams? Courage, persistence and a sense of adventure.  What does it take to follow the dreams of one’s owner? All of the above plus a fancy hat.  We can learn much from the tenacity of young Captain Pug, who presses on despite a fear of water, to fulfill the hopes of his fine Lady Owner.  We can also learn much from Pug’s experiences in the gastronomic field – namely, the truth of that old piece of household wisdom about refraining from swimming (or indeed sailing) immediately after eating.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

There were no dragons in this book.  There is a cool little dog who tries to be the captain of a boat but he keeps getting seasick because he eats everything he sees.  I liked the two Footmen who had to carry the dog’s owner around in a chair.  I can imagine Bruce in a chair like that.

The ending is pretty exciting, with helicopters and a big ship and I really liked all the pictures.

Pug is pretty funny but I hope there’s going to be a Pug book with a dragon in it soon.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

Captain Pug, oh Captain Pug!

Cute as a little red ladybug.

He keeps up his morale as he sails the canals!

Hits the right note while in a rowboat!

Proves no pug is finer while on a cruise liner!

Captain Pug, oh Captain Pug!

There’s no other dog we would more like to hug.

Bruce

While I’m not entirely smaniacal book club bruceure about the technique involved in Mad Martha’s poem, I do have to agree with her sentiment about just how charming Captain Pug is in this attractively presented little tome.  I am always a little skeptical of advertising material that insinuates that a reader will love this new book if they are a fan of an already published author or work, particularly when all the stories have in common is the fact that a dog is the main character.  The media release that came with this book indicated that it would be lapped up by fans of Aaron Blabey’s morally bankrupt picture book hero, Pig the Pug, presumably due to the pugginess of Captain Pug.  The eldest mini-fleshing in the dwelling, at five years old, is a massive fan of the aforementioned Pig, but I wasn’t sure he was going to enjoy this one simply because it had a pug on the cover.  Allow me to be the first to admit my ill-placed skepticism however, because after watching the read-aloud of this book (which took only two sittings) the mini-fleshling was already asking how long he would have to wait before the second book (Cowboy Pug) comes out. *January 2017, for those who are interested!*

So after a slightly apprehensive start, I freely confess to being won over by the fun, charming, humorous adventures of this cute little pug (who of course looks even cuter in a sailor hat).   One of the best things about the book is that it is illustrated throughout, with pictures placed strategically around the text.  This was an enormous boon to the mini-fleshling, as he is not quite ready for pictureless read-alouds but can handle listening to longer bits of text when there are pictures to help him keep up with the story.  The book also makes clever use of fonts and text enlargements to aid the newly confident reader.

The first few chapters moved a bit more slowly than I would have liked, setting up Lady Miranda (Pug’s owner), her life of luxury, and her dreams for Pug to achieve glory as a charmingly attired sea captain.  The second half of the book moved a lot quicker as Lady Miranda and Pug inadvertently become separated and Pug must face the trials of overcoming his fear of water in ever more precarious (and amusing) situations.

I would heartily recommend Pug’s first outing as an engaging read-aloud or read-together for those taking their first steps into longer books or for more confident readers who love a bit of silliness and a whole lot of beguiling illustration.

The Book Club gives this book:

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Eight thumbs up!

Until next time,

Bruce

Utopirama: Shelter Dogs in a Photo Booth…

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It’s Utopirama time again and today’s guaranteed mood-lifter is the perfect coffee table book for those times when your internet connection is dodgy and your access to funny animal videos is cut off.  We received Shelter Dogs in a Photo Booth by Guinnevere Shuster from the publisher via Netgalley and you’ll be pleased to know that inside the book you can expect to find exactly what it says on the cover.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Man’s best friend! What better way to showcase adoptable dogs than by letting their true personalities shine in a photo booth! In the tradition of the best-selling dog photography book, Underwater Dogs, Shelter Dogs in a Photo Booth wins the heart of all dog lovers.

Often seen as sad, rejected, and behind cold metal bars, it’s no wonder people would avoid images of shelter dogs awaiting forever homes. From talented photographer (and now public figure and adoption champion) Guinnivere Shuster comes Shelter Dogs in a Photo Booth, a guaranteed-to-make-you-smile photo book featuring shelter dogs in a brand-new light. Get ready to see the cutest canine portraits you’ve ever seen! Guinnevere’s fantastic photos went viral  and have been featured on websites, in magazines, and on television programs all over the world: Good Morning America, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, The Huffington Post, Time, The Daily Mail . . . even celebrities have gotten in on the action: Amy Poehler, Cesar Millan, and Zooey Deschanel have made statements and posts declaring their love of Guinnevere’s work. After the adorable and up-for-adoption photos of these furry friends were seen and enjoyed by millions, adoption rates at Utah’s Humane Society skyrocketed.

The book features 100 dog photo booth style photographs, each accompanied by a short story about the dog’s personality, how the dog ended up in the shelter, and the adoption date. A follow-up will conclude the book, with photos of some of them with their new families.

A portion of the proceeds of this book will benefit the Humane Society of Utah and Best Friends Animal Society.shelter dogs.jpg

Quick Overview:

There’s not much to say about the content of this book that you can’t already infer from the title, but each page features a different shelter dog with four images and a little blurb about how it came to be in a shelter in the first place. If you’re a dog lover, the book is worth it for the images alone: some are pretty funny, like the one on the cover, while others are more subdued.  They portray a wide range of breeds and personalities however, and having a quick peek at the next dog becomes a bit addictive after a few idle page flicks.  The end of the book shows some of the dogs in their new forever homes with their new families which is a nice touch and no doubt goes some way to fulfil part of the book’s purpose – to encourage people to adopt shelter dogs rather than buy from pet shops or sellers who may be engaging in inhumane practices like puppy farming.

The only thing that I found dystopian about the book were the excuses given for the dogs ending up in the shelter in the first place.  There were far too many “owner had to move and couldn’t take the dog with them” type stories for my liking, which begs the question, “why didn’t you think about that before you bought the damn dog?” or alternately, “why can’t you find a dog friendly place to move to?”

As well as all the cute dog pictures, proceeds of the book’s sales go to help animal rescue centres in the US.  Winning!

Utopian Themes:

Human’s best friend

From despair to hope

Saving the day

Smile for the camera

Protective Bubble-o-Meter:

protective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubble

Five out of five protective bubbles for the joyful flapping ears of a rescue dog heading to its forever home with its head out the window of the car.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

The Land of the Green Man: A Nonfiction “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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Today’s book is one of those that most people wouldn’t pick up for light reading, but it is a thumping good choice for anyone planning to write a fantasy book set in England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales.  The Land of the Green Man – A Journey through the Supernatural Landscapes of the British Isles by Carolyne Larrington does exactly what it says on the metaphorical tin – and it does so in a super-accessible fashion.  I requested, somewhat warily, this book from the publisher via Netgalley and was pleased and surprised to discover a comprehensive yet not overwhelming overview of the context behind the legends that feature in many a modern fantasy novel.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The folklore of Britain abounds with local tales about the activities of one sort of supernatural being or another giants, elves, hobs, boggarts, dragons or shape-changing witches. The stories are vivid, dramatic and often humorous. Carolyne Larrington has made a representative selection, which she re-tells in a simple, direct way which is completely faithful to the style and spirit of her sources.

Most collectors of local legends have been content merely to note how they may serve to explain some feature of the landscape or to warn of some supernatural danger, but Carolyne Larrington probes more deeply. By perceptive and delicate analysis, she explores their inner meanings. She shows how, through lightly coded metaphors, they deal with the relations of man and woman, master and servant, the living and the dead, the outer semblance and the inner self, mankind and the natural environment. Her fascinating book gives us a fuller insight into the value of our traditional tales.

the land of the green man

I could actually feel my neurons connecting and reinforcing pathways as I read, so here are Five Things I’ve Learned From…

The Land of the Green Man – A Journey through the Supernatural Landscapes of the British Isles

1. If you are walking along the moors/near a church/down a back alley/across a marsh and you see a black dog, the outlook is not likely to be good. Unless of course, you are in one of the few localities in which black dogs are portents of luck and protection, rather than death.

2. If you are walking along the moors/near a church/down a back alley/across a marsh and you see a PACK of black dogs, I have no advice for you, except to say that I hope your will is in order.

3. While a shady tree may look like a promising place under which to have a noontime nap, under no circumstances should you succumb to this incredibly poor idea. 

4. If you happen to be propositioned by a beautiful suitor who you suspect is out of your league, you should probably decline the offer on the grounds that said suitor could well be a hag in disguise, hoping to ensnare you for nefarious purposes.  If, on the other hand, you are propositioned by  someone who would be lucky to make the cover of “Hag Fancier’s Monthly”, you should probably accept on the grounds that your suitor is likely to be a member of fairy royalty under some kind of curse, waiting to reward you with magical bounty aplenty.

5. Never, under any circumstances, piss off a mythical creature.

As I mentioned earlier, this book should be essential reading for anyone planning to draw on British myth and legend in their writing.  Larrington manages to deeply explore the origins of a whole range of myths and legends within the context of various localities.  She notes how certain landscapes and the people who dwell in these have put different spins on similar myths – black dogs, for instance, could be lucky or dangerous, depending on where you hang out; and the part of the country in which you live could see you with giant neighbours who are violent, or cheerfully disinterested in the lives on puny humans.

The content is divided into categories that link legends of a similar vein.  The author also notes how modern authors such as JK Rowling, Susan Cooper and Tolkien have used certain legends in their works.  Sirius Black (or Padfoot, to his friends) has obvious connections to the Black Dog stories of various regions, while The Dark is Rising sequence (among other works) makes use of a reworking of the Sleepers under the Hill legends.

Even if you’re not planning to write the next fantasy bestseller, this is a very involving read for lovers of fantasy who would like to know more about the popular legends and mythical beings that call the British Isles home.  I’m sure other readers will have a few “A-ha!” moments, as I did, upon discovering some snippet of information that showed aspects of some recent reads in a new light.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge Goal: 17/10

Nonfiction 2015Until next time,

Bruce

 

Scaling Mount TBR with some Irish MG Fiction: Brilliant…

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imageYes!

Believe it!

I have managed to knock another tome from atop the teetering peaks of Mount TBR!

Today I present to you Brilliant by Roddy Doyle, a delightfully Irish bit of middle grade fiction, dealing with depression – both psychological and economic – and its insidious effects, with a touch of magical realism. I spotted this one a while back and was taken in by its enticing cover and promise of mental health related content. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Uncle Ben’s Dublin business fails, it’s clear to Gloria and Raymond that something is wrong. He just isn’t his usual cheerful self. So when the children overhear their granny saying that the Black Dog has settled on Ben’s back and he won’t be OK until it’s gone, they decide they’re going to get rid of it. Gathering all their courage the children set out on a midnight quest to hunt down the Black Dog and chase it away. But they aren’t the only kids on the mission. Loads of other children are searching for it too, because the Black Dog is hounding lots of Dublin’s adults. Together – and with the help of magical animals, birds and rodents – the children manage to corner the Black Dog …but will they have the courage and cleverness to destroy the frightening creature?

brilliant

Regular followers of this blog would know that I adore a good bit of UK fiction, and if it’s aimed at a young audience, then that’s even more reason to rejoice. It’s not often though, that I come across an Irish fiction novel that is so quintessentially Irish. Prepare yourselves now for stereotypically twee cooing over the wonderfulness of the Irish and their Irishness.

I could not help laughing and laughing at the dialogue in this book. Not because it’s hysterically funny, but because it’s so delightfully, drolly, mirthful. Observe this exchange between the protagonists’ parents (and their granny, chipping in alzheimically at the end):

“Is there anything worth watching on telly?”

“Your man is on.”

“Who?”

“That fella who used to be on the other thing. That fella with the hair. You know him.”

“I don’t.”

“Ah, you do.”

“I don’t. What about his hair?”

“It’s not his. It’s a rug.”

“Oh, him?”

“Who?”

“I’m not watching him.”

“Who?”

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Honestly, it’s just brilliant. And obviously, I had the whole story narrated by Ardal O’Hanlon in my head which upped the mirthfulness by the power of one million. If they don’t get Ardal O’Hanlon to voice the audio book, it will be a travesty.

In fact the linguistic patterns of English-speakers in Dublin are key to the plot of this book. I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that as a reader with a non-preference for magical realism, the magical realism in this book is deftly done.

I feel like I’m rambling a bit with this review, but I suspect it’s the lingering after-effects of reading this book. It really is a surreal adventure that will have your head spinning by the end with the wonder of it.

And the silliness of it.

And the seriousness of it.

And the brilliant Irishness of it.

It’s even got a real life vampire.

Brilliant.

I’d definitely recommend this to any readers of middle grade fiction looking for something with a voice all its own.

Although I wouldn’t recommend choosing it as a read-aloud unless you’re proficient in the accent of a Dubliner.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Utopirama: Dogtology – Live. Bark. Believe.

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Welcome to Utopirama, the feature in which we present to you books that are guaranteed to uplift the weary of spirit and buff the corns of the emotionally downtrodden.  Today’s tome undertakes to prove once and for all the philosophical debate relating to whether humans’ appreciation of dog-kind has in fact attained religious status.  In Dogtology: Live. Bark. Believe, author and dog-lover J. Lazarus argues that it certainly has.

dogtology

Quick Overview:

Humanity’s love of canines is both universal and ancient.  In recent decades, at least in more affluent nations, the exaltation of our doggy friends seems to have reached a fever pitch.  Attentive owners purchase all manner of accoutrements for their pampered pooches, behaving in many cases as if their dogs were more important than their human relations.  Lazarus uses this tome to define and explain Dogtology: a religious belief system that retains at its core an unwavering belief in the goodness, connection and solace provided by Dog. After all, there could be good reason why dog spelled backwards is “god”.

Using humour and a light touch Lazarus spells out the ways in which human behaviour towards dogs has, over hundreds of years, developed to mirror the ritualistic practices associated with other world religions.  In clearly delineated chapters, the over-the-top actions of enamoured dog owners is flipped on its head and closely compared to other spiritual belief systems in an attempt to show how humanity has elevated humanity’s humble, shoe-chewing, face-slobbering, bum-sniffing companion to the status of a deity.  Non-believers be warned – the time of the Dogtologist is already upon us.

Utopian Themes:

Human’s best friend

“Normal” is relative

Sniffing out a connection

Spiritual philosophy for the layperson

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

protective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubble

Three bubbles for the comforting odour of a couch upholstered in dog hair

I am also submitting this one towards my Non-Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader.

Nonfiction 2015

Until next time,

Bruce