Tomes from the Olden Times: Grandad’s Gifts…

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image Welcome, young and old to Tomes of the Olden Times, the feature in which I discuss books that I particularly remember from times long past.  Today’s gem is an exquisite short story/long picture book from that genius of Australian short-storytelling for children, Mr Paul Jennings.  If you have never read anything by Paul Jennings, you are doing yourself a grave disservice.  Go and correct this at once. No, actually, wait until you’ve read this post, THEN go and correct this in a timely fashion. Today I wish to discuss Grandad’s Gifts, written by Jennings, hauntingly illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe and first published in picture book form in 1990.  That’s 25 years ago folks. Yep, it makes me feel old too. The book tells the short but spook-laden tale of Shane, a young lad who moves with his family to live in the house of his late grandfather.  While there, Shane opens a forbidden cupboard, uncovers a long-hidden secret and sets about righting a wrong in his family history.  Here’s the (rather spoiler-filled) blurb from Goodreads: This is a chilling picture book with a twist in the tail, as Paul slowly brings a fox back to life by feeding its fur with lemons from the tree above its grave. But it’s the lemons above Paul’s grandfather’s grave that give the fox its final gift, sight… grandads gifts When Grandad’s Gifts suddenly popped back into my consciousness many moons after first encountering it, I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten about it for so long.  I immediately tried to hunt it down but had a great deal of trouble finding it in print.  Then, one glorious day, as I was rifling through some second-hand library books I spotted it.  Not the cover that I remembered, but still, that title and that author and I knew I had found it.  And pretty darn pleased about my little score I was too. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what makes this story so mystical and memory-worthy, but I can assure you that it is one of those special books that you really should endeavour to get your hands on.  Trust me on this. When first I was introduced to this story, in a classroom setting, I remember being stunned by the …well, stunning…illustrations.  So realistic, so engaging, so erring on the side of the magical in the realm of magical realism.  Here’s one:  image And here’s another: imageAnd one more, for luck:

image

Boo! That one got you in, didn’t it?!

I think the realism of the artwork really gave this story its spook-factor.  There is something haunting about these pictures that embeds itself in the memory and brings the story right off the pages.  They are the perfect accompaniment to Jennings’ particular brand of quirky strangeness.  Any young Australian worth their salt (and any Australian teacher worth theirs) would be familiar with the hilarious and weird short stories of Paul Jennings.  Some of these, notably his Round the Twist stories,  were later turned into a television series, whose theme song will no doubt still be stuck in the heads of some.  *Mentally sings: Have you ever…ever felt like this? When strange things happen, are you goin’ round the twist?*

Apart from being deliciously creepy though, the book is also remarkably touching, as we get carried along with Shane’s mission to free his furry, cupboard-strewn friend.  This is one of those stories that proves the power of story-telling – it’s one I did actually forget about for a period of time, but once I remembered it, the experience of first hearing it came back in vivid detail from the depths of decades past.

I would highly, highly recommend hunting this book down if you can and reading it with any kids in your vicinity aged around seven or older.

Until next time,

Bruce  

Guest Post of Awesomosity: Rosie Best, Author of Skulk…

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skulkAhoy me hearties! You’ve made a canny choice jumping aboard the good ship Bookshelf today, because as a result you get to read a post by Rosie Best, author of Skulk – foxy, new-release, young adult, urban fantasy novel that I reviewed very recently indeed….in case you missed it, you can find that review here.

So who is this Rosie Best character? Here’s the lowdown, thanks to her publisher, Strange Chemistry

Rosie Best lives in London and loves all things nerdy. She is an editor at Working Partners Ltd, working on a huge variety of projects from first chapter books about unicorns to dark YA journeys through the land of the dead.

She’s also written for Working Partners on a freelance basis, on series published by Usborne and Hot Key Books.

The opening of Skulk won a place in the 2012 Undiscovered Voices anthology. When not writing or indulging a passion for video games, she sings with the Crouch End Festival Chorus.

And guess what else? She likes Ben Aaronovitch and Neil Gaiman too…clearly she has impeccable taste in authors, just like we shelf-dwellers.

For today’s post, Rosie is sharing a bit about why London is the perfect location for Meg’s adventures in Skulk….

Skulking Around London rosie best

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, but I bloody love London town. I consider myself deeply privileged to have done most of my growing up here, and when I realised I was going to write an urban fantasy there was no question at all in my mind where it was going to be set.

Skulk is the story of Meg Banks, a girl from an upper class London family who’s out graffitiing her posh girl’s school in the middle of the night when she witnesses the death of a fox who shapeshifts into a man. She inherits his ability to shift, and soon gets caught up in a conflict between the shapeshifters and someone who’ll do anything for power.

‘Write what you know’ is advice that can seem reductive and annoying, but I ended up following it when I was writing Skulk, almost by mistake. Even though I was actually writing a story about shapeshifters and magic, I ended up naturally filling Skulk with things that fit, that I knew could be believably found somewhere within the M25. Urban foxes, the ravens in the Tower, spiders and rats, and yes, butterflies. Pigeons and fog (even though the last great London fog happened in the 1960s). Hyde Park and Waterloo Bridge, the Tower of London and the top of the Shard.

Sometimes I worried that putting in so many of the famous locations would make the book feel like a tourist’s version of London. There’s a subtle but very important difference between using the royal family and the red double decker busses and a nice cup of tea because they’re realities of life in London, and using them to suggest some kind of strangely glossy paradise full of polite white men in bowler hats.

That’s not London – the real city is staggeringly diverse, both in terms of the landscape and the people. I hope that a little bit of grit rubs off on the bright, shiny places from the less glamorous corners of this fabulous city that also made it into the book – the traveller park under the Westway flyover, Willesden Junction tube station, the dodgy part of Hammersmith.

I’ve been wondering whether Skulk could be set somewhere else, and I think it could – I can imagine the New York version, the Delhi version, the Sydney version (that one would have the biggest spiders). I think those would be cool books, but I know I couldn’t write them.

There are a couple of books I have to acknowledge as huge influences on the way I think and write about London:

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman – for my generation this is the book (and originally the TV series) that got half of us into urban fantasy in the first place. Richard Mayhew helps a homeless girl and discovers a whole secret world just under the surface of London life. Tube station names like Earl’s Court and Blackfriars become wonderfully literal, and all sorts of real locations feature in weird, fantasy-tinged ways.

Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch – much more recent, but no less brilliant. This is the story of Peter Grant, a Metropolitan Police Officer who sees a ghost at a murder scene and finds out that magic is real and people are committing crimes with it. It’s an urban fantasy police procedural, and because the main character is an architecture nerd it comes with a healthy (and surprisingly compelling) helping of London history.

Harry Potter – this is a bit of a strange choice, because almost all of it is set in Wizarding Scotland. But JK Rowling also writes about the muggle world with an insightful truthfulness that’s just as brilliant as the wild fantastical world of Hogwarts. Plus, I love that JK created a London landmark of her very own that stuck so fiercely in people’s minds that it now really exists – at least, there’s a sign for Platform 9 3/4 and half a trolley sticking out of a wall in King’s Cross station.

If you want to read more from Rosie (and let’s face it, why wouldn’t you?), you can check out her blog at http://skulkingwriter.blogspot.com.au/    In the meantime, you should probably go and immediately get your hands on a copy of Skulk. I have made that bit easy for you – just click on the cover image at the top of the page to be taken to the Book Depository, where you can spend your hard-earned (or ill-gotten) cash*

As this post is part of a blog tour, you can multiply your Skulky pleasure exponentially by visiting other foxy bloggers over the course of the next month – just go to http://skulkingwriter.blogspot.co.uk/p/skulk-blog-tour.html and follow the trail!

Until next time,

Bruce

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SKULK ARC Review: Read it if…..

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Pleasant afternoon to you, thrill seekers! Today’s Read-it-if is just a little bit special – it’s my first ever ARC (that’s Advance Reading Copy for the uninitiated…but of course, you already knew that…) review.  Many thanks to  Strange Chemistry for the opportunity to get my paws on this one pre-release!

Skulk is a new urban fantasy tale by Rosie Best, to be released on the 1st of October in e-version, and print version in the US and Canada, and on the 3rd of October for the UK and the rest of us Outlanders.

In Skulk we are introduced to Meg Banks, an ordinary lass who suddenly becomes extraordinary during a standard, run-of-the-mill, after-hours excursion to deface her school grounds with social-commentary-oriented graffiti.  Meg is interrupted during this mission by the entrance of an injured fox, who promptly morphs into a human male before dying in front of her.  Later, Meg discovers that she has somehow inherited the ability to shape-shift into fox form and at this point, things begin to go seriously pear-shaped for all concerned. But mostly for Meg.

Cue a crazy, sadistic sorceress, a merciless army of pigeons, a menagerie of urban shape-shifters and a creeping, flesh-eating fog!

skulk

Read it if:

* you have long harboured a sneaking suspicion that the particularly hirsute gentleman who sits opposite you on your daily commute may actually be a gorilla in human form

* you have a strong aversion to foggy weather – both for its natural potential to reduce visibility for motorists, and its supernatural potential to explode the heads of the unwary

* you are attracted to pretty, glittering objects….like egg-sized gemstones that have the power to alter your perception and/or assist in your plans for world domination

* you believe the words “pigeon” and “sky-vermin” are roughly interchangeable

Skulk is the perfect choice for your entry-level explorer of urban fantasy.  It has a nice spread of fantasy elements and the history behind the fantasy is explained in enough detail to keep the reader immersed in the story, but without so much complexity that one requires a wall-mounted genealogical tapestry to follow how the situation came to be.  In case you’re wondering about appropriate reader age, I would definitely keep this one in the “older teens” section, due to graphic violence, mentions of drug use and parental abuse.  Having said that though, Skulk is also a great option for adult readers who want a slightly lighter read in the style of Ben Aaronovitch or Mike Shevdon.

Can I also mention how much I love the cover art? How good is it? Well done to all concerned for proving it is possible to have a young adult novel featuring a teen female lead character, without resorting to the tired and over-used “long-haired girl with vacant expression” option for the cover.  Plus, that fox symbol would look fantastic on a t-shirt!

If I’ve whetted your appetite for all things foxy, stay tuned, because Rosie Best will be guest posting here at the shelf on Monday – that’s September 2nd for the calendar buffs among you.  And you can check out my Goodreads review here!

Until next time,

Bruce
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Reminders and Teasers: A Smorgasboard of Bookish *Stuff*…

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Good afternoon shelf-buddies!  I bring to you today a veritable picnic basket overflowing with tempting and exciting reading-related delicacies! Hopefully by the end of this post you will find yourself filled to elegant sufficiency, slightly drowsy from the richness of your bookish repast and with any luck, not covered with crumbs or being stalked by the inevitable trail of ravenous ants.

First up, REMINDERS:

kid-lit-blog-hop-button-sep-2012-e1349976901756

Kid Lit Blog Hop #22

In case you missed my last post (and related fancy hat), I am currently tickled pink to be co-hosting the Kid Lit Blog Hop, home of all things child and literacy related. Click the button to join in the fun!

Fiction in 50 Challenge: August

fiction in 50It’s on again! For those who love to write but can never get past the first few sentences of your epic novel, this is the challenge for you! Create a piece of fiction in 50 words or less, and post it on your page in the last week of August.

This month’s prompt is: FAMOUS LAST WORDS

Click on the button for more info, and for upcoming prompts!

Second up, a TEASER!

I’m a little ashamed to admit that we shelf-dwellers have all been having a little trouble with skulkreigning in overblown egos in the last week or two.  The reason behind our sudden inflatedness of head is that we were recently approved to review our first ever ARC – for SKULK, by Rosie Best and published by Strange Chemistry!

Check out that cover – doesn’t it just suck you in? Skulk introduces us to Meg, an ordinary young lass who witnesses the death of a fox…who shapeshifts into a man.  Meg then discovers that she has inherited this power….and things go downhill for her from there!  Skulk is a great example of young adult urban fantasy, but I won’t say too much here because…..

…..In preparation for Skulk’s release on the 1st  (US/Canada/ebook) and the 3rd (UK) of September, I will be reviewing Skulk next week and then on the 2nd of September, the shelf will be honoured with a post from the author herself – Rosie Best!!

And finally, a bit of RETAIL THERAPY!

winterowls fox toy

In order that you are fully prepared when you rush out and order your copy of Skulk, I also have a little bit of foxy goodness from my crafty mate WinterOwls.

This darling little fox friend is available at her etsy shop here:

http://www.etsy.com/au/listing/155720293/handmade-fox-toy-fox-plush-upcycled-fox

It would make a great cuddle buddy to accompany the scarier bits of Skulk!

So there you have it – plenty to ponder over a lazy weekend.

Until next time,

Bruce