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

Early Chapter Book Double Dip Review: Cat Capers and Doggy Derring-Do…

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image

Feet up, treats out and let’s dip into two new release early chapter books!

First up we have Pug, whose first adventure involved being all at sea and who now makes a reappearance in Cowboy Pug by Laura James and illustrated by Eglantine Cuelemans.  We received a copy of this one from Bloomsbury for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Meet the brilliant, the wonderful, the courageous …Cowboy Pug! The second book in a joyful new illustrated series for fans of Claude and Squishy McFluff. Pug and his faithful companion, Lady Miranda, are going to be cowboys for the day – and first of all they’re going horsetrading! But with their noble steed Horsey safely acquired, it’s not long before they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Can Pug the reluctant hero overcome his fears and save the day once more?

Dip into it for…cowboy pug

…a beautifully illustrated quick read that bounces from one unexpected disaster to the next.  Pug manages to come out on top at every turn however, by accident or design, and by the end of the story we’ve seen police chasing bandits, trophies being awarded and one horse that slowly decides that being friends with Pug and Lady Miranda means one is in for a wild ride.  This story starts a little abruptly if you aren’t familiar with the escapades of the first book, with no particular information given to explain the backstory of Lady Miranda, Pug and the Running Footmen.  By the second chapter though, this shouldn’t be a problem as young readers will be engrossed in Lady Miranda’s search for a horsey friend.

Don’t dip if…

…you like your stories to be complex and involved.  This is only a quick read, perfect for newly confident readers looking to move from picture books and basic readers to a longer, yet still accessible, chapter book format.  For that reason, the action moves along apace, without any filler in which to get bogged down.

Overall Dip Factor

This is a charming follow-up to the first Adventures of Pug story and I think I enjoyed it better than the first.  I seem to remember that Lady Miranda annoyed me a bit in the first book, whereas she was perfectly delightful in this installment, even making a new friend (of the non-horsey variety).  The illustrations on every page and the large font make the book totally accessible to younger readers (and those like me who hate tiny print).    Whether you’ve read the first book in the series or not, this would be a canny choice for young readers who love animal stories, lots of colour and imagery, and slapstick laughs aplenty. For those already bitten by the Pug bug, the next adventure is coming out later this year.

If you aren’t a dog person, fear not, because next up we have The Adventures of Miss Petitfour by Anne Michaels and illustrated by Emma Block, which features all the cats you could ever wish for.  We received our copy from Bloomsbury Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The magical adventures of an eccentric Mary Poppins-esque heroine and her flying feline charges, sure to charm readers big and small. The first book for children by an internationally acclaimed novelist and poet.

Miss Petitfour enjoys having adventures that are “just the right size – fitting into a single, magical day.” She is an expert at baking and eating fancy iced cakes, and her favorite mode of travel is par avion. On windy days, she takes her sixteen cats out for an airing: Minky, Misty, Taffy, Purrsia, Pirate, Mustard, Moutarde, Hemdela, Earring, Grigorovitch, Clasby, Captain Captain, Captain Catkin, Captain Cothespin, Your Shyness and Sizzles. With the aid of her favorite tea party tablecloth as a makeshift balloon, Miss Petitfour and her charges fly over her village, having many little adventures along the way. Join Miss Petitfour and her equally eccentric felines on five magical outings — a search for marmalade, to a spring jumble sale, on a quest for “birthday cheddar”, the retrieval of a lost rare stamp and as they compete in the village’s annual Festooning Festival. A whimsical, beautifully illustrated collection of tales that celebrates language, storytelling and small pleasures, especially the edible kind!

the adventures of miss petitfour

Dip into it for…

…whimsical antics, alluring pastel-hued illustrations and a veritable clowder of cats.  Miss Petitfour lives with a total of sixteen felines, all with their own personalities, in what feels for all the world like a mashup between Mary Poppins and Neko Atsume.  The book features a short introduction at the start so the reader can familiarise themselves with both Miss Petitfour and the aforementioned cats, and is then broken up into five short stories, all which feature food, flying and feline fancifulness.

Don’t dip if…

…you prefer substance over style.  While the book is beautifully presented, I found the stories somewhat lacking in intrigue and they didn’t particularly hold my interest for long.  The author is quite fond of digressions and while a few of these are always helpful and fun, it does not bode well when the digressions generate more interest than the actual story.

Overall Dip Factor

The gorgeous illustrations throughout the book, the coloured fonts and the fact that the stories feature sixteen cats that travel by tablecloth parachute at the mercy of the winds will surely be enough to draw some readers under Miss Petitfour’s spell of whimsy.  It wasn’t quite enough for me, but I’m still impressed by the production quality of the book nonetheless.  This is one you’ll want to buy in print, for sure, rather than e-format.  If you have younger readers of your acquaintance who are fans of Kate Knapp’s Ruby Red Shoes, they will probably find Miss Petitfour and her cats equally delightful.

So which is it to be? Cats or dogs? Whimsy or adventure?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Vern and Lettuce

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gabbing-about-graphic-novels

I’ve got a cutesy one for you today that we picked up on a recent library jaunt.  Vern and Lettuce features little vignettes in the life of Vern (a sheep) and Lettuce (a rabbit) who live in the same apartment building.  The strips were originally published in The DFC which, according to Wikipedia, is/was a British weekly kids’ comic anthology.  Anyway, the comic strips have been brought together in one edition here to form a complete story, one page at a time.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Welcome to Pickle Rye, home of best friends Lettuce the rabbit and Vern the sheep. Join them for baking, birthdays, bunny-sitting and a quest for fame in the big city!
Vern and Lettuce reach for the stars, but danger is lurking just beneath their feet…

vern and lettuce

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade

Genre:

Funny anthropomorphic animal stories

Art Style:

Cartoon cute

Reading time:

About twenty minutes in one sitting

Let’s get gabbing:

While I had seen Vern & Lettuce before on some blog or other’s list of recommended graphic novel for the younger age bracket, I couldn’t remember what it was about when I came across it at the library.  Lettuce and Vern live in a town called Pickle Rye where Vern eats grass in the park while fending off moles and Lettuce is often put in charge of her brood of younger siblings.  The first few stories in the book, which are presented one to a page, are unrelated and serve to introduce the characters and their relationship, but a little way in the comics merge into a longer tale that relates to Lettuce coercing Vern into travelling to the city to audition for a televised talent show.

I enjoyed both sections of the book.  The earlier, unconnected comics were adorable and quite funny with Vern always ending up in some baby-bunny-related predicament and the latter section of the collection presented an interesting story with some cheeky twists and turns.  I also loved the few literary and pop culture references hiding throughout (in one instance the moles makes an utterance with uncanny resemblance to Little Britain’s juvenile delinquent Vicky Pollard, while later on there’s a reference to pigeons being unwelcome on buses…a tip of the hat to Mo Willem’s perhaps?).

Overall snapshot:

This is a cute and funny collection that is a great addition to the comic literature for the younger end of the middle grade spectrum.  The stories are simple enough for younger kids to access but there are enough twists and turns for older middle grade readers to appreciate too.

Until next time,

Bruce

Getting in Sync with Pratchett: The Wee Free Men…

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the wee free men

Well, it has finally happened; that which I was despairing of ever occurring has come to pass: I have read a Terry Pratchett book all the way through and enjoyed it!  Hurrah!  I know I’ve said it before on this blog, but even though Terry Pratchett is the kind of author that I should automatically adore, given that I enjoy funny, subversive, slightly silly fantasy tales, I haven’t ever gelled with any of his books for some reason.  Finally though, it has happened.

We received this new release edition of The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, being the thirtieth in the Discworld series and the first book in the Tiffany Aching five-book series, from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Tiffany wants to be a witch when she grows up.

A proper one, with a pointy hat. And flying, she’s always dreamed of flying (though it’s cold up there, you have to wear really thick pants, two layers).

But she’s worried Tiffany isn’t a very ‘witchy’ name. And a witch has always protected Tiffany’s land, to stop the nightmares getting through.

Now the nightmares have taken her brother, and it’s up to her to get him back.

With a horde of unruly fairies at her disposal, Tiffany is not alone. And she is the twentieth granddaughter of her Granny Aching: shepherdess extraordinaire, and protector of the land.

Tiffany Aching. Now there’s a rather good name for a witch.

This particular edition of The Wee Free Men is being marketed as a middle grade story, hence the middle-grade-ish cover design, but I can’t imagine many a middle grader will take to Pratchett’s style of humour much and would prefer to stick to thinking of this book as an adult fantasy fiction tale.  I have found when reading Pratchett before that I really enjoy the first few chapters and then my interest tapers off, but with this story I maintained my interest throughout…mostly.

Tiffany is an independent sort of a nine-year-old, having grown up under the influence of Granny Aching, the previous witch of the Chalk and owner of two fantastic dogs.  Tiffany feels the pressure to be as savvy and wise as old Granny Aching was, but senses that she doesn’t quite have the stuff to be the next Chalk witch…well, not yet anyway.  Once the Nac Mac Feegle – little blue crazy fighting men with thick accents – become involved however, Tiffany discovers that she’s going to have to get her witch on whether she likes it or not.  Add to that the fact that a fairy queen has scarpered with her younger brother and you’ve got the makings of an adventure to remember.

I can’t say exactly what it was about this story that made it different from others of Pratchett’s that I haven’t been able to get through, but I did enjoy Tiffany’s independence mixed with her completely understandable anxieties about becoming a witch while having absolutely no witchy skills to speak of.  I did lose interest a little during the parts set in the fairy world – I find hearing about dreams tedious at the best of times and this section was set entirely in a selection of dreams – but overall I found the story engaging enough that I looked forward to getting back to it.

I can now safely put the others of the Tiffany Aching sequence on my to-read list, although I’ll take things slowly.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Spellslinger: Magic, Cards and Deadly Talking Squirrel Cats For The Win!

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spellslinger

It’s not often I run across a YA book with such original world-building, so I’m just a little bit excited to be sharing Spellslinger by Sebastien De Castell with you today.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is surviving your fourteenth year. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.”

Kellen’s dreams of becoming a powerful mage like his father are shattered after a failed magical duel results in the complete loss of his abilities. When other young mages begin to suffer the same fate, Kellen is accused of unleashing a magical curse on his own clan and is forced to flee with the help of a mysterious foreign woman who may in fact be a spy in service to an enemy country. Unsure of who to trust, Kellen struggles to learn how to survive in a dangerous world without his magic even as he seeks out the true source of the curse. But when Kellen uncovers a conspiracy hatched by members of his own clan seeking to take power, he races back to his city in a desperate bid to outwit the mages arrayed against him before they can destroy his family.

Spellslinger is heroic fantasy with a western flavour.  

I know I already had you at “deadly talking squirrel cats” but this book has plenty to offer those with a penchant for stories featuring easy-to-follow world-building, an original method of magic use and subtle commentary on social hierarchies and dominant cultural myths.  Kellen is days away from taking the mages’ trials, earning a mage name and upholding his family’s honour – the only problem being that he hasn’t sparked any of the bands that will allow him to perform the spells to pass the trials and so will probably end up as a servant instead. When a wanderer arrives in town and takes an interest in Kellen, events unfold that will tear the fabric of everything Kellen believes about his world.

Spellslinger is an incredibly well-paced story, with revelations about the world and its players occurring at regular intervals.  The learning curve regarding understanding the Jan’Tep society is pleasantly tilted and explained within the action of the story so that the important features and history of the world are grasped quickly, without need for the reader to grope around trying to piece bits together and or wade through boring information dumps.

Kellen is a believable and likable character who realises that he must use his other skills – mostly his crafty, tricksy, strategising brain – to manage in the world as his magic deserts him.  Into this strict social hierarchy comes Ferius Parfax, a wandering, card-slinging, fast-talking, ass-kicking woman who manages to avoid any stereotype relating to female characters in action stories.  She is clever, cautious, compassionate and covert in equal measure and essentially performs the narrative function of holding the piece together, as well as providing the impetus for new directions at the end of the book.

The narrative balances action and danger with more philosophical questions about identity, cultural background and the injustices we perpetuate in order to maintain our own comfortable living standards.  I particularly enjoyed Kellen’s convsersations with the Dowager Magus as something peculiar in YA fiction; the adult conversations and the expectation from the Dowager Magus that Kellen would rise to her expectations intellectually felt authentic and added an extra layer of gravitas to a narrative that could otherwise have descended into your typical boy-hero-saves-world story.  Spellslinger is definitely a YA book that could be appreciated by adult readers in this sense.

The ending of the book leaves the way open for a completely different setting and story for the second book in the series and I am looking forward to seeing where Kellen’s path will take him.

And after all that I’m not going to tell you anything about the deadly talking squirrel cats.  You’ll just have to read the book.

Until next time,

Bruce

TBR Friday: Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns…

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TBR Friday

I desperately needed a quick read to squeeze in another book to keep up the momentum in my Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017  and lo and behold, there was Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns by Doug MacLeod sitting on the shelf waiting to step into the breach.

sister madge

Ten Second Synopsis:

The blurb at Goodreads tells us only that this book is “A collection of stories of life behind the walls of the Convent of Our Lady of Immense Proportions” and that should give you pretty much all the information you’ll need to help you decide whether or not you’re going to pick up this book.  In case you need more convincing, this a collection of fictional poems written by a fictional nun about all the other fictional nuns living at their fictional convent.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

A year, roughly?  Probably longer.

Acquired:

I had this book on my Goodreads TBR list and then I came across it on special at Booktopia so decided to snap it up.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

Sheer laziness.  Or, in more biblical terms, rampant sloth.

Best Bits:

  • The fact that the convent is called “Our Lady of Immense Proportions”.  Honestly, that’s enough of a laugh in itself to justify buying the book.
  • The poems take up about a page each and are accompanied by amusing illustrations.  There is enough variety in the personal vices of the nuns presented here – from feeding small children to zoo animals, to reading Women’s Weekly magazine, to riding motorbikes through a corner store – to amuse and delight even the most staid of religious zealots.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • This is a niche sort of a book that doesn’t necessarily warrant much of a re-read although it would be good to pass around to like-minded friends and colleagues.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

I suspect I could have had similar enjoyment from this one had I just borrowed it from the library.

Where to now for this tome?

To be sold at suitcase rummage.

I’m glad I’ve finally got this one out of the way, even though it is such a short book that I could have read it any time.  I promise that at the end of this month I’ll have a longer TBR book for you – Greenglass House is what I’m aiming to have read.  You can check out my progress toward the Mount TBR Reading Challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Meandering Through Middle Grade: Life on a Bee-less Planet…

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meandering-through-middle-grade

It’s a question that’s been asked by everyone from your common-or-garden human to Doctor Who himself (tenth incarnation): Where are all the bees?  What is happening to our little black-and-gold buzzing pollination stations?  What will happen if the bees disappear for good?

All these questions and more are probed in the original and engaging mildly post-apocalyptic novel for middle grade readers, How to Bee by Bren MacDibble. I feel the need to point out before we go any further that the story contained within this book is far more down-to-earth and substantial than either its cover or title give it credit for.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Allen & Unwin:

A story about family, loyalty, kindness and bravery, set against an all-too-possible future where climate change has forever changed the way we live.

Sometimes bees get too big to be up in the branches, sometimes they fall and break their bones. This week both happened and Foreman said, ‘Tomorrow we’ll find two new bees.’

Peony lives with her sister and grandfather on a fruit farm outside the city. In a world where real bees are extinct, the quickest, bravest kids climb the fruit trees and pollinate the flowers by hand. All Peony really wants is to be a bee. Life on the farm is a scrabble, but there is enough to eat and a place to sleep, and there is love. Then Peony’s mother arrives to take her away from everything she has ever known, and all Peony’s grit and quick thinking might not be enough to keep her safe.

How To Bee is a beautiful and fierce novel for younger readers, and the voice of Peony will stay with you long after you read the last page.

how to bee

Although this book is set in a post-bee world, the setting is far enough after the bee-pocalypse (or the time when the bees went extinct) that the world, or at least Peony’s part of it, has found a workable solution to the problem.  Children with poles now climb fruit trees to pollinate them and life in the cities depends entirely on the good work of the farms where fresh food is grown.  Peony dreams of being a bee and completing the important, prestigious work but her dream is ripped away when her mother returns from her city job and demands that Peony return with her to earn cash.  Peony is bewildered by this, because on the farm, they have everything they need – money is anathema when there’s no shops to buy things from.  In the city however, money is everything and the gap between haves and have-nots is illustrated by the hordes of raggy people who beg in the streets, with no jobs, homes or hope.

Along with an original slang, this story has unmistakable undertones of a Dickensian novel, with an urban environment characterised by the dichotomy of the rich and poor, in direct contrast to the happily barefoot children of the countryside.  Sure, life is hard on Peony’s farm, but at least the people there are a strong community and understand the importance of their work to the necessities of life.  The story moves through phases, with the early chapters introducing the reader to the farm and its processes, as well as Peony’s home life.  The central chapters of the story, set in a big house in the city, show a different side to this alternative future, and demonstrate the hostility of the “real” world, in which violence, struggle and want colour the lives of the majority of “urbs” – city residents.

These central chapters give rise to an unexpected friendship between Peony and Esmeralda, the young girl for whose family Peony works.  Although this section provided variety and interest, as well as a chance for both levels of the social strata to see each others’ good points, it seemed a bit out of place with the beginnings of the story.  This is a moot point however, because the tale twists again toward the end and although Peony will encounter despair, hardship and grief before the end of the novel, an unexpected jolt of hope is injected from two directions in the final chapter.

Overall, this is a family drama, an environmental warning and a portrait of the kind of society that we are sliding towards held together by an engaging and determined narrator.  I’d recommend this for middle-grade aged readers who enjoy books set in alternate worlds, as well as to older readers looking for a middle grade read that sits outside the expected.

Until next time,

Bruce