The Many Worlds of Albie Bright: A GSQ Review

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It’s time to look at all that’s good, sad and quirky about The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge, a new release middle grade romp that features science fiction, science fact and lots of sciencey faffing about with bananas and wayward cats.  We received a copy of this one from Allen & Unwin for review after eyeing it covetously on various “coming soon” lists of middle grade fiction.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Albie’s mum dies, it’s natural he should wonder where she’s gone. His parents are both scientists and they usually have all the answers. Dad mutters something about Albie’s mum being alive and with them in a parallel universe. So Albie finds a box, his mum’s computer and a rotting banana, and sends himself through time and space to find her…

the many worlds of albie bright

The Good

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As UK middle grade reads go, this one is quite original.  If you discount the oft-used “child coping with the death of a parent” storyline, there is plenty here that goes beyond the usual bounds of middle-grade fare.  We’ll discuss those bits more in the “quirky” section though.

Albie is a character who will resonate with many readers; a young man trying hard to honour his mother’s memory, while his father just works to forget.  There are a number of competing themes going on here including family realignment after the loss of a parent, dealing with grief, finding one’s purpose and challenging accepted boundaries of thought.  The pace of the book is even, with an episodic plot that follows Albie as he hops from one world to another.  I particularly enjoyed the character of Alba and her interaction with Albie and would have loved to have seen more interactions like this throughout the book.

The Sad

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There was something missing throughout this book for me and I suspect that the missing something was a strong supporting character.  For much of the book Albie goes it on his own, so the narration comprises a lot of Albie telling us what’s going on or relating his thoughts without much to break this up.  A bit more banter between Albie and …someone…would have made the book a bit pacier and more engaging in my opinion, and allowed for a bit of unexpectedness in a plot where the reader suspects everything will turn out in the end.

I also had a problem with the straightforward way in which Albie manages to solve all the problems of inter-dimensional travel without much effort. The plot is full of complex, nebulous scientific ideas that even proper scientists have trouble with, but Albie’s scientific problems – such as getting from one world to another and how to get home again – are solved by accident or dumb luck.  I felt that the author couldn’t quite decide whether this was supposed to be first and foremost a book about science and parallel universes, or a book about grief and personal growth, so left both plotlines a little underdeveloped in order to manage such big ideas in a book for young readers.

The Quirky

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I can safely say that this is the first time I have encountered such a focus on science in a middle grade fiction offering.  Throughout the story many theories, experiments and facts are brought up – including, but not limited to, the Large Hadron Collider and Shrodinger’s Cat – and this will really appeal to those young readers who can’t get enough of science fact and how it might be imagined as science fiction.  I can imagine that after reading this book at least one kid (or adult!) will grab a bunch of balloons and their younger sibling’s favourite toy and attempt to launch the two into space.

Overall I enjoyed this book but not nearly as much as I expected I would.  I was hoping for a little more challenge and struggle in Albie’s journey toward healing, and a little more zany danger in his romp through the unknown universe.  It is certainly an ambitious undertaking to attempt to blend high level scientific concepts with the enormity of a child’s grief, but for me it didn’t quite hit the mark.  I certainly enjoyed it while I was reading, but I don’t think it will be one of those books that makes it into the regular rotation of books I recommend to others.

Unless they’re looking for a middle grade read featuring cats that are simultaneously dead and alive.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Morgue: A Nonfiction GSQ Review

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It’s time to let the psyche triplets out of the bag again for a Good, Sad and Quirky review of a book about death, justice and medical science.  We received a copy of Morgue: A Life in Death by Vincent DiMaio and Ron Franscell from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In this clear-eyed, gritty, and enthralling narrative, Dr. Vincent Di Maio and veteran crime writer Ron Franscell guide us behind the morgue doors to tell a fascinating life story through the cases that have made Di Maio famous-from the exhumation of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald to the complex issues in the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

Beginning with his street-smart Italian origins in Brooklyn, the book spans 40 years of work and more than 9,000 autopsies, and Di Maio’s eventual rise into the pantheon of forensic scientists. One of the country’s most methodical and intuitive criminal pathologists will dissect himself, maintaining a nearly continuous flow of suspenseful stories, revealing anecdotes, and enough macabre insider details to rivet the most fervent crime fans.

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The Good

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There are a number of highly absorbing cases discussed in Morgue, both high profile, such as the death of Trayvon Martin, and otherwise. The interesting thing about this book in particular is that it addresses issues of forensic science as it relates to the law in the USA.  While I have read other books about life as a coroner or medical examiner (chiefly Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die by Kortanny Finn), none have explored how forensic evidence – and particularly, conflicting expert opinions about forensic evidence – can influence whether or not a person is convicted of a crime.  The issues raised in the book regarding whether justice is actually done or simply seen to be done, can be uncomfortable to read about at times, but raises some heartily thought-provoking gristle on which to ruminate.  The cases covered include suicides, murders, serial murders and historical murders and each is discussed in the context of the author’s involvement in presenting evidence at trial or to further a case.

The Sad

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I did find that the author had a tendency to come across as a bit of a Judgey McJudgerson in parts of the book.  He doesn’t seem the type to suffer fools (or indeed anyone who knows less than he does on the subject of forensic
medicine) gladly and is scathing in his view of so-called “armchair forensic detectives” who speculate on high profile cases with only the education of CSI type shows under their belts.  He also makes plain his views on media and lobbyists using particular deaths, such as that of Trayvon Martin, to advance certain political or social causes, which, depending on which side of the fence you sit in these matters, could turn you off a bit.

It is while espousing such opinions that the author dips into that strange American cultural phenomenon that allows one to talk oneself up and proudly declare how learned and experienced one is.  I have no doubt that the author is indeed as famous and influential in the forensic sphere as he claims, but as America seems to be the only place where it’s socially acceptable to blow one’s own trumpet (loudly and at great length), readers from outside that great nation might find these parts a little bit…American.

There is also one chapter in particular wherein the author goes into great detail about his family background in forensics.  While no doubt extremely important to the author, I found this part rather tedious.

The Quirky

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Along with the high profile cases previously mentioned, there are some completely unexpected inclusions hiding in this tome.  The exhumation of Lee Harvey Oswald to reassure (or possibly inflame) conspiracy theorists that the corpse buried in Mr Oswald’s plot was, in fact, Lee Harvey Oswald is one of these.  As is the utterly bizarre final chapter in which the author is called upon to speculate on the death of Vincent Van Gogh.  Odd.

Potential readers might also like to know that while some of the cases go into very little gory detail – such as the two cases of serial child murder – others are shockingly graphic.  One such, detailing the gruesome murder of three young boys**, described the deaths and injuries in incredible detail – for reasons relating to the conflicting forensic opinions explained later in the piece – and I wasn’t quite prepared for this level of illustrative explanation.  You have been warned.

Despite some issues with the narrative style of the author that lessened my enjoyment of parts of this book, the majority of the cases and the information provided is deeply engaging and will greatly appeal to those “armchair forensic detectives” that the author so disdains.  If you have any interest at all in forensic medicine and how forensic evidence can make or break (or manipulate!) criminal trials, then I would definitely recommend this book to you.

**Spoiler Alert!**

So I have a little question about one of the cases.  I apologise if I’ve missed the answer in the book, but if anyone has read it and can fill me in, it would be great!

 In the graphic child murder case mentioned above, the author presents his opinion that the wounds that the original examiner believed were made by a serrated weapon were actually made by animals, possibly after the boys’ deaths.  At the same time, he agrees with the opinion that one of the boys was dead before he went into the water.  So….if the wounds that were originally presumed to have been made by a blade, leading to the young lad bleeding out and dying BEFORE he went in the water, were actually potentially made AFTER he went in the water…or at least, after he had already died…then what was it that killed that particular boy??

Until next time,

Bruce

Who’s Had A Poo? (and lots of other questions): A Picture Book GSQ Review

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It’s time for a GSQ review and today’s book offers a fun, unusual brain-workout for littlies and their grown-ups, and surprisingly, doesn’t have much to do with poo but does have a lot to do with seeking, deducing and figuring out nifty visual clues.  We received a copy of Who’s Had A Poo? (and lots of other questions) by Anton Poitier and Tracey Cottingham from the good folk at Five Mile Press – thanks! – and we will now subject it to the rigours of a Good, Sad and Quirky review!

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Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

This amusing spot the difference book is entertaining and educational for pre-schoolers. Each spread features the same group of animals – with a twist. A question appears, prompting children to spot the difference.

Who’s splashing who? Who’s swapped places? The simple and fun questions featured throughout the book allow children to use their analytical skills of concentration, thinking and observation to provide the correct answers.

Cute and quirky illustrations of animals ensures children are interested, with the interactive game-like spot the difference nature of the book keeping them engaged.

The Good

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Who’s Had A Poo? is one of those ideas that is a sure-fire winner for the simple reason that it engages kids by asking a pretty ordinary question and letting the kids do the detective work.  The idea of the book is that children (and their grown ups) explore page spreads containing the same set of animals, with just one or two tiny differences on each page that relate to the question.

Here’s an example:

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Can you spot who’s ready for lunch?  What I love most about this type of search-and-find book is that it’s not as simple as just finding Wally (or Waldo, as our American friends know him), but it almost requires a conversation on the reasons a certain animal is chosen as fitting the particular question.  For the page spread above, for instance, the panda is the obvious choice, but perhaps the duck could fit the bill as well (pun intended) – it depends on how well one can articulate one’s choice.

Apart from the sleuthing that is the book’s main focus, the bright, cheeky animal illustrations and the die-cut, peekaboo holes on the front cover are sure to draw in the mini punters for a rewarding reading experience.

And if you’re wondering whether this book is too advanced for the younger end of the picture book market, I took the trouble of testing it on the youngest mini-fleshling in the dwelling (two years old) and she loved it to bits.  It’s quite surprising how children so young can use the visual cues to answer the question, even if they can’t articulate their reasoning exactly.  This book was also fun for finding out which animals the mini-fleshlings knew – the peacock was a bit of challenge, the chameleon a new favourite, and all the rest that she didn’t know took on the mantle of “hippo”.

The Sadimage

The only downside I can see with this book is the title.  I’m afraid the reference to poo may be misleading and cause some parents and carers to bypass it, if they are averse to poo-based picture books (of which, we can all agree, there are many).  Allow me to assure you that the book is NOT about poo – except for one page, that asks “Who’s had a poo?” and which both the mini-fleshlings found absolutely hilarious.

The Quirky

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If this was the first book of this type that I had ever seen, I would be leaping around, shouting its praises from the rooftops.  I still feel inclined to shout its praises, perhaps from a slightly lower vantage point but I actually stumbled across this concept late last year after a tip off from Read It Daddy, with their review of Who Done It? by Olivier Tallec.  I immediately bought the book, given that I trust their judgement implicitly and so I and the mini-fleshlings were introduced to this concept of sleuthing for visual cues.  Who Done It? is an exceptional book, but there are a number of differences between that and Who’s Had A Poo? and if I point these out, it might make deciding which one you’ll read first a little easier, based on your personal preference.

Firstly, Who’s Had A Poo? is your standard picture book format, while Who Done It? comes in a long, rectangular format that requires you to turn the pages by lifting them up.  Who Done It? also features only eight or nine figures on each page, and these are different for each page spread leading to discrete questions and answers, whereas Who’s Had a Poo? has the same set of twenty-four animals on each page and some of the questions require the reader to turn back to the previous page to figure out the answer to the question.  I was pretty stumped by the “Who’s swapped places?” page until I did a bit of judicious page-flicking, but the two-year-old picked “Who’s changed colour?” with nary a blink of the eye while I was left scratching my head for a bit.

The level of challenge in Who’s Had a Poo? also increases throughout the book, given that the questions have multiple answers as the book goes on.  Where in the beginning only one animal might fit the criteria, towards the end some pages have up to six animals that fit the answer.  This is great fun, and led to races between the mini-fleshlings to see who could spot all the creatures with the right characteristics. I, of course, am above such undignified behaviour.

I hope this book has piqued your interest. I must say, it is a search and find concept that I have taken to with great adoration and I hope that more books along this line make it to publication in the near future.  Oh, and if you haven’t come across the Read It Daddy blog before, and you are a fan of children’s and middle grade titles, do yourself a favour and pop on over.  You won’t be disappointed!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A Posthumous GSQ Review: Spoiler Alert (You’re Gonna Die)…

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imageToday I have a book for those for whom the stench of a decomposing corpse fires up curiosity, rather than the vomiting reflex.  We received Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die by Korttany Finn and Jacquie Purcell from the publisher via Netgalley and found a delightful little book in Q&A format that is the perfect introduction for those wishing to scratch the itch of curiosity surrounding what happens to the dead immediately after death.  Let’s begin with the blurb from Goodreads:

One thing that you can be sure in life, is that it is going to end. How’s that for a buzzkill? A real life coroner challenged a few thousand internet strangers to ask her anything. The result is a collection of morbid and slightly embarrassing questions all about The End. Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die! will leave you with a new perspective on life. Print

The Good

imageIf you have any sort of interest in the workings of the death trade – that is, those people whose job it is to deal with the dead in any manner – then this is a concise and easy-to-read introduction that should suit you perfectly.  The questions and answers are divided into a number of categories both for ease of reference and so (I assume) you can skip over the bits that don’t interest you/gross you out/make you feel a bit weird for being too interested in them.  The book covers a pretty broad range of content, from information about the types of qualifications and work experience that you might need if you are thinking of getting into work in the post-life industry, to lesser-known methods for body disposal for those who think burial or cremation is too mundane, to what exactly goes on during an autopsy.  The book never gets too in-depth on any one topic so I wouldn’t recommend it for those who really want specifics on a certain area – although if you are looking for a book of that nature I would certainly recommend Working Stiff by Judy Melinek or Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlyn Doughty or even Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, which I read way back in that mystical time before I started blogging – but it’s certainly a thorough and accessible introduction.

The introductions to each category written by Korttany Finn are quite funny and Jacquie Purcell has mastered the art of dry humour, so you won’t get too bogged down in the sadness and unsightliness of close encounters with corpses.

The Sad

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The saddest part of my reading experience here is that I wanted it to be longer.  I wasn’t prepared for such a concise tome and so I was disappointed that it wasn’t more in-depth.  Also, although this is no fault of the authors, there were a whole lot of questions in the first section that are specific to the USA (and in some instances specific to the state in which Purcell works), which prompted the slightly irritating realisation that if I wanted to know about how things work in Australia, I would have to research it myself.  As my natural laziness prevents me from doing any such research, I will have to live with this feeling of slight irritation, until someone publishes and places in my hands a book which focuses on post-death practices in Australia.  **Newsflash! I just did a microsecond of research and found out that coroners in Australia are mostly lawyers or magistrates and one of the main roles of the coroner’s court is to investigate deaths that may have an impact on public safety (eg: bushfire related deaths) in order to improve policy and practice around these events to ensure that they are prevented or minimised in future**

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The fact that this book features answers by a coroner, as opposed to a funeral director or someone who does the work of handling corpses in some capacity, the perspective is slightly different from other books I’ve read on the topic.  It took me a few moments to realise that I wasn’t actually 100% sure what a coroner does, although I had some ideas.  Those who love crime shows like CSI will probably think they have a good idea about what a coroner does, but this book might change their minds!

Also, the book grew out of a question and answer thread run by Purcell on a parenting blog, so it’s good to know that the questions in the book were actually asked by actual people and therefore, if you have ever idly pondered similar questions, you are not as weird and morbid as you think you are.

Overall I found this to be an interesting interlude on my quest to read lots of books about death, with some fascinating information that I certainly hadn’t considered before.  If you are interested in this topic, but you’re looking for a reasonably quick read, then I’d certainly recommend you pick this one up.

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*I’m submitting this book for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge*

Until next time,

Bruce (and his psyche)

 

Imaginary Fred: A KidLit GSQ Review…

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My psyche and I have got a right little gem for you today, courtesy of the kind folk at HarperCollins Australia, by a writing and illustrating duo that will knock your metaphorical socks off.  Imaginary Fred is the combined work of Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers, and two more reliably exciting names in children’s literature you would be hard pressed to find.  Here’s an overview of this delightful and funny picture book, with the blurb from Goodreads, before my I let my  psyche-pals loose…

Did you know that sometimes, with a little electricity, or luck, or even magic, an imaginary friend might appear when you need one? An imaginary friend like Fred. Fred floated like a feather in the wind until Sam, a lonely little boy, wished for him and, together, they found a friendship like no other. The perfect chemistry between Eoin Colfer’s text and Oliver Jeffers’s artwork makes for a dazzlingly original picture book.

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The Good

Being reasonably unfamiliar with Eoin Colfer’s writing (having not actually read any of it, but knowing that he’s right famous among the younglings), the undeniably cheeky illustrations on the cover of this book drew me straight in and forced an “Oh look! It’s an Oliver Jeffers book!”  from my tired, cynical, stony lips.  That signature style of naïve line drawings held the promise of another giggle-inducing read with more than a few unexpected twists along the way.  Happily, this is exactly what Imaginary Fred delivers.

Colfer’s writing divides its time between being touchingly lyrical and abruptly hilarious.  I didn’t quite expect the plot to be so engaging, but the combination of word and image throughout actually had me leaning toward emitting that annoying and oft-used phrase that the young folk use – “Oh, the feels!”  The ending of the book, you understand, takes a turn for the uplifting just when you think everything is going to pot and Fred’s story arc will end just as it always has when his little human friends no longer have any time for him.

So really, this book provides the whole package – a story that will appeal to kids; a word count that will engage young readers who are looking for longer, more involved stories for their parents to read to them and challenge young readers who are branching out into independent reading, as well as illustrations that really bring the story off the page and elevate it to truly memorable heights.

I’m just going to put it out there that Oliver Jeffers has somehow sneakily snuck his way onto my list of favourite illustrators without me even noticing.  Honestly, those facial expressions.  They crack me up every time.  Brilliant.

 

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The Sad

I’ve nothing to complain about with the story per se, but I do fear that the format of this book may be one that school librarians have an awfully hard time trying to get kids to borrow.  These are the picture books “for slightly older readers”, where the amount of text will put off kids who are still on picture books, but the picture book format will deter kids who could read the text easily, because they don’t want to be seen to be reading books for “little kids” when their peers have moved on to early chapter books.

I’d love to see this released in an early reader format to compliment the picture book format and ensure that ALL the kids get their grubby hands on Imaginary Fred, because it would be a crying shame for anyone to miss out.

 

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The Quirky

I thoroughly enjoyed the interplay between words and pictures here, as I mentioned before, particularly the instances where keen-eyed readers will be rewarded by easily missed illustrative giggles.  There is a cheeky tip of the hat to Colfer’s and Jeffers’ back catalogue hiding in the middle, an unsuspecting pig who is about to have a very bad day thanks to the alignment of the stars, and various toys and musical instruments that might appear, to the untrained eye, to be defying gravity.

Here’s my favourite illustrative side-note, anyway:

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Yes, you’re right, I am utterly childish, but for some reason the inclusion of that one, particularly given that it has nothing at all to do with the story, made me laugh and laugh.

So that’s it really.  If you’re a fan of Oliver Jeffers, I can imagine you’re going to rush out and buy this book even if I said it was a pile of old tosh, such is the power of a good illustrator’s work (and rightly so!).  Luckily though, it isn’t a pile of old tosh – quite the opposite in fact – and it has been a lovely and non-onerous introduction for me to Colfer’s work.  I may even pick up one of his big kids’ books now…or at least put one on my TBR pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Illustrated MG GSQ Review: Megan’s Brood…

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I’m letting the little psyches out of their brainbox today, as it seems appropriate for the book we are about to review.  I came across Megan’s Brood by Roy Burdine and illustrated by Shawn McManus while browsing Goodreads…or possibly Amazon…or possibly someone’s blog, I can’t quite remember, and downloaded it on a whim.  I’m so glad I did, because I have now discovered a fun new series to chase after!

I know I said that this is a middle grade title, but I think this one will have wide appeal, from middle graders right up to adults, so don’t be put off by the MG tag if you’re a snooty grown-up.

Let’s get into it. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Megan’s life is uprooted when her family moves to a new house in a far away town where she discovers a tiny brood of mysterious creatures living in the attic. As she raises them each begin to manifest unique traits of their own — one that blows fire like a dragon, one who sprouts wings and flies, and a girl with a hypnotic singing voice, are just a few among the group.

The mystery of where these fantastical creatures come from and what their ultimate purpose might be leads Megan down an exciting path to adventure and discovery (and not just a little danger!)

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The Good

There are many things about this book that combined to make it one of imagethose “aaaaahhhh” reads.  In case you’re unfamiliar with the definition of an “aaaaahhhh” read (and don’t feel bad if you are, because I only made up the concept just now), it is the kind of read that comes along and averts a looming reading slump by restoring your faith in the existence of original and unexpected books.

Firstly, this is a quick read, with short chapters and action that rolls along.  The story is tightly written and while there is plenty of detail to establish the non-human characters in the world, the author doesn’t waste time by drawing anything out.  This was, unbeknownst to me, exactly what I needed when I picked this book up, and it was wonderful escapist reading experience and the perfect antidote to some longer, slower books that were cramping my style slightly as I read them concurrently to this one.

Megan’s brood of little creatures are just adorable and I’m sure young female readers will just love the idea of having a little family of fantastical beast pets hatch in their bedroom.  Casper, Megan’s next door neighbour, is developed nicely within the constraints of the story length, and it was also good to see parents who are alive, well and unwittingly involved in the story.

The ending of the tale – that is, the ending that appears as an epilogue – took me by surprise and hooked me wholesale into wanting to follow the series when the next book is released.  The promise of darker and more sinister happenings in the coming tome is too much to resist!

The Sadimage

There isn’t really too much I can knock about this book.  Some readers may be disappointed with the brevity of the tale.  It does have a bit of a sense of the graphic novel about it, in that they always tend to end with the reader wanting more (or they do for me, anyway).

Cutter, Megan’s cooler, skating neighbour, is a bit of a stereotyped character, but his appearance is brief and action-driven and so this wasn’t as much of an irritation as it could have been.

The Quirky

The full page illustrations at the beginning of each chapter are absolute imagewinners and hit exactly the right spot for flagging what’s about to come while bringing Megan’s world alive.  I often wonder why more books for this age group don’t have illustrations because they almost always elevate a book above the common herd.

I also loved the fact that Megan is both confident and idiosyncratic.  So often in middle grade and young adult books, main characters who dress differently or have their own style end up being solitary or bullied, but Megan, at least in this initial instalment, is happy to be a bit quirky and eccentric looking, while also being approachable and confident enough to interact with and get to know her new neighbours.  Refreshing!

Overall, this fun little read manages to blend edgy fantastic beastliness with a typical “new girl in town” story but leaves out the overdone plot line involving the outsider being ostracised.  If you’re looking for a quick read that packs a lot of punch into a small, eyeball-placating package, then I’d definitely recommend getting your claws on Megan’s Brood.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Fi50 Reminder and a Time Travel Murder Mystery…

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imageIt’s almost time for everyone’s favourite micro-flash-fiction challenge once again – Fiction in 50!  July’s challenge will open on Monday and the prompt for this month is…

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If you’d like to play along – and we sincerely hope you do – just create a piece of fiction comprising fewer than 51 words and pop back on Monday to add your link to the comments on my post.  For more detailed information and prompts for the next six months, just click on the attractive button at the top of this post.

Now on to the bookery!

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Today I have an unexpected delight for you that involves murder, mystery, magic doors, time travel and pen pals. Not necessarily in that order. We received a copy of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Annabelle Aster doesn’t bow to convention—not even that of space and time—which makes the 1890s Kansas wheat field that has appeared in her modern-day San Francisco garden easy to accept. Even more peculiar is Elsbeth, the truculent schoolmarm who sends Annie letters through the mysterious brass mailbox perched on the picket fence that now divides their two worlds.

Annie and Elsbeth’s search for an explanation to the hiccup in the universe linking their homes leads to an unsettling discovery—and potential disaster for both of them. Together they must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen…and yet somehow already did.

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The Good

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As far as time travel mysteries go, this is very well put together with a lovely blend of action between the present and the past. The tale starts off slowly (and innocently) enough, with two ladies becoming trans-temporal pen pals after each suddenly discovers the other’s house in their back garden. As  Annie and Elsbeth try and figure out why they are suddenly connected in this manner, more pressing issues come to light and the ladies are drawn into trying to stop a murder that may (or may not) already have happened.

As the story unfolds, the author deftly reveals subsequent layers of the connection between the two women and the events surrounding Annie’s current circumstances in the present. The characters of Christian (Annie’s long-time, stuttering friend), Edmond (befriended by Christian due to an inexplicable familiarity of face) and Nathaniel (old-fashioned romantic interest for Annie) all add to the depth of the story and kept me guessing about who was who and how they were all linked. Or not linked.

The villains, Culler and Danyer, are violent and unpredictable and cast a deliciously creepy shadow over proceedings that is necessary to dispel Annie’s unfailing belief that meddling in time will result in things turning out perfectly alright. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the ordinary issues of Annie’s life melded with the time-travelly, magical aspects of the tale and I think this book will have a wide audience that encompasses those who enjoy plain literary fiction as well as those who like an unreal twist to their novels.

The Sad

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The only thing that mildly soured the experience of this book for me was the fact that I felt the pace slowed unnecessarily in some places, making the book feel a bit overly long. This is one of those books that, like the final film in The Lord of the Rings franchise, has an action-packed climax and then continues on for another half hour or so as all the loose ends are tied up. While the post-climax information is interesting and enlightening, and a satisfactory conclusion to the tale, it falls into the category that I like to call the “pre-empted bladder annoyance”. This may be familiar to you (or not), being the situation in which you think something (usually a film) is about to end and therefore you give your bladder permission to relax, knowing that within minutes you will be free to attend to its needs. When the film (or book, or play or whatever) then continues for longer than expected, you are forced to fidget uncomfortably while the author takes the time to neatly tie off the ends of the narrative.

Again, this certainly wasn’t a big enough complaint to sour the experience for me, but I do like a bit of warning where bladder pre-empting is concerned.

The Quirky

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The thing that stands out for me about this book as opposed to other time-travel jaunts I’ve read is that it really does read like a family drama/comedy with time travel thrown in, rather than focusing on the mechanics of the time-travel and paradoxes and so forth. As a veteran reader of time-travel novels, this felt like a lovely, gentle yet exciting entry into the genre.

If you’re a fan of contemporary fiction that doesn’t feature any unbelievable or magical elements, I would definitely recommend you give this book a try because it has all the best features of contemporary and women’s fiction (the friendships, the focus on relationships – both romantic and otherwise, the growth of the characters) as well as the added interest of the problems posed by finding a magic door at the back of your house and being unwittingly drawn into a century-old murder investigation.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the buoyant tone of this book and the way in which the author has intertwined time-travel with the general excitement and intrigue of a murder mystery. Annie and Elsbeth are both strong characters with a great sense of humour and wills of iron. The male characters run the gamut from shrinking violet to homicidal maniac and flesh out the narrative so that you can never quite be sure where each fits in (or will fit in in the future).

Give it a go, I reckon. If nothing else, you will find out the meaning of the word “lemoncholy” which you can then use in general conversation to annoy those who don’t know what it means, while simultaneously feeling superior in your ever-expanding vocabulary.

Until next time,

Bruce