A MG Double Dip Review: Magic and Malodorous Mischief

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I hope you’ve got some stinky cheese accompanied by the sort of cracker that disappears quickly for today’s double dip review because we will be examining two middle grade titles rife with magic and malodour.

First up, it’s magic.  We received Goodly and Grave in a Bad Case of Kidnap by Justine Windsor from HarperCollins Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Lucy Goodly is the new boot girl at Grave Hall, working for the cold, aloof Lord Grave. The other staff – Vonk the Butler, Mrs Crawley the cook and Violet the scullery maid – all seem friendly but Lucy soon notices that strange things are afoot in her new home – and not just Mrs Crawley’s experimental anchovy omelettes. There are moving statues, magical books and Lord Grave has a secret. Meanwhile, all over the country, children are vanishing. Could the mystery of the missing children be linked to the strange goings-on? Lucy is determined to find out…

goodly and grave

Dip into it for…

…an original framing of magic in middle grade and unexpected twists aplenty.  Lucy is in possession of a secret playing card that seems to be imbued with some kind of magical capacity, allowing her to win every game of poker she plays.  After being inexplicably beaten by Lord Grave and subsequently required to serve as his Bootgirl, Lucy has plenty of time in which to ponder how her magic card could have let her down so badly.  The author has plotted this story to ensure that the reader can never get too comfortable with the situation at hand before a strange new revelation crops up.  I was particularly impressed with the mechanical raven (which of course is hiding a secret) and young maid Violet’s stuffed frog toy (being, as I am, a fan of stuffed toys). The illustrations throughout the book also liven things up enormously, and these, as well as the little newspaper clippings here and there, will enhance the experience of young readers.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of young children playing games of chance inside houses of ill-repute well past their bedtime.

Overall Dip Factor

This story is a bit unusual in that instead of the usual single major plot twist three quarters of the way in, there are several revelations throughout that throw Lucy’s cleverly thought-out theories on their heads and force her to go back to square one and re-evaluate who she can trust.  The narrative style is light and slightly melodramatic and a tad silly in places, so is a perfect choice for young readers who like to mix mystery and magic with a giggle here or there.  I quite enjoyed the ending, as it provides a bit of a launching pad into the second book in the series – although I can’t imagine what might happen next!  I would recommend this one for fans of plucky young not-orphan stories set in a fictional past.

Next up, we have an Aussie offering from Alex Ratt (aka Frances Watts) & Jules Faber.  We received The Stinky Street Stories from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The first thing I noticed when I woke up on Sunday morning was a mysterious smell…

When Brian (‘call me Brain – everyone does’) awakes to a truly putrid pong, he knows it is up to him and his friend Nerf to neutralise it. But that putrid pong is just the beginning, because life on Stinky Street is a riot of rotten reeks, awful aromas and sickening scents. So grab a peg (for your nose) or risk being flattened by the fumes!

Dip into it for…  stinky street

…exactly what it says on the tin.  This is a collection of four short stories featuring Brian, his friend Nerf, and a variety of antics involving stink, pong, funk, stench, reek, miasma, whiff and malodour.  I am going to go out on a not-very-distant limb here and say that this book will definitely appeal more to your average eight-to-ten year old male lover of gross stories than any other cross-section of reading society.  The stories are completely silly and accompanied by suitably amusing cartoon style illustrations and emphatic font styles to enhance the reading experience.  The stories are all quite short and while the whole book could easily be read in one sitting by a confident young reader, unless you are a whopping great fan of stench-based narrative, it might be a good idea to take the stories one at a time.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of kid’s books that revel in being a bit majorly gross.

Overall Dip Factor

While this was not a book that I particularly got much out of as an adult reader, I will admit to perking up a bit upon the introduction of the Sweet Street Girls in the final two stories of the book.  This gang of girls (who live on Sweet Street – as opposed to Brian and Nerf, who live on Stinky Street) are witty, intrepid and unafraid of toil if it means turning the tables on the Stinky Boys.  These last two stories gave me a bit of hope that there might be a not-entirely-stink-based direction for these stories should there be a second book in this series.  I’d say this is strictly one for young fans of books in the style of Captain Underpants and Andy Griffith’s Bum books.

Until next time,

Bruce

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A Middle Grade Double-Dip Review: Magical Realism vs Legendary Monsters

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Sit back, relax, grab your favourite two opposing snacks and get ready to dip into some intriguing upper middle grade reads.  Before we get started, I’m just going to let you know that all of today’s books are going to contribute toward my Colour Coded Reading Challenge for 2017.  You can see my progress toward that challenge here.

I should also point out that I received all today’s books from HarperCollins Australia for review – thanks!

First up I have the companion novel to Time Travelling With A Hamster by Ross Welford, which I reviewed last week: What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible.  Also by Ross Welford, obviously.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Turning invisible at will: it’s one way of curing your acne. But far more drastic than 13 year-old Ethel Leatherhead intended when she tried a combination of untested medicines and a sunbed.

It’s fun at first, being invisible. And aided by her friend Boydy, she manages to keep her extraordinary ability secret. Or does she…?

When one day the invisibility fails to wear off, Ethel is thrown into a nightmare of lies and deception as she struggles to keep herself safe, to find the remedy that will make her seen again – and solve the mystery of her own birth…

what-not-to-do-if-you-turn-invisible

Dip into it for…

…charming characters, a solid friendship and some shenanigans involving a sunbed and seriously dodgy alternative medicine.  On immediately finishing the book I felt that I didn’t feel this one as much as Time Travelling with a Hamster, but with a bit of distance since the time I finished it, I’ve decided that I’m actually more fond of the main characters of this novel than the previous.  Ethel lives with her grandma and is bullied for having terrible acne.  Elliot is a recent blow-in from London and seems unaware of his status as social pariah.  An unlikely but heartwarming friendship is formed over the course of the book (and I mean that in the least vomit-inducing way possible) and by the end one can really believe the bond between Ethel and Elliot is authentic.  Did I mention that Ethel also suffers from spells of invisibility now and then?  Well, she does, and that’s where most of the humour comes in, but really, this is a story about family past and present and the family you build for yourself.

Don’t dip if…

…you have a pathological aversion to sunbed use.  I, hailing from the country with the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, have a natural and pathological aversion for sunbeds given the fact that they are proven to increase rates of deadly skin cancers, and have rightly been banned here.  It did grate on me that Ethel happily gets into one multiple times throughout the story and I feel there should be some author’s note at the end (or the beginning, or throughout) that plainly points to the dangers of placing your naked skin under intense UV radiation for any period of time for the sake of a bit of a tan.  It will kill you people.

Admittedly, this is not a good enough reason not to read the book though.

Overall Dip Factor

This was a thoroughly enjoyable story that skilfully incorporates elements of magical realism to lift the plot out of the expected boundaries for contemporary middle grade and YA “issues” books.  Yes, Ethel is dealing with some difficult issues about identity, bullying, loyalty and honesty, but the inclusion of the invisibility works both as a humorous side plot, and a metaphor for escaping one’s problems and taking decisive action.  Elliot is a fantastic character who, it seems, can only be himself and this provides a nice foil for Ethel’s desire to become someone different.  All in all this is a strong contemporary story about growing up, with the added bonus of fun and fantasy woven in.

Next up, I have a two for one deal, with the first two books in the Darkmouth series by Shane Hegarty – Darkmouth: The Legends Begin and Darkmouth: Worlds Explode.  These have been out for a while now, but I received them to review as part of a jacket  re-design release.  Here are the blurbs from Goodreads:

Darkmouth: The Legends Begin

A monstrously funny debut from the new star of middle-grade adventure. Ages: 9+

There are towns where the border between our world and the world of monsters – properly called Legends – is thin. One of those towns is Darkmouth.

There, our hero Finn is the son of the last remaining Legend Hunter – which means that one day soon he will be the last remaining Legend Hunter.

Except… he’s a bit rubbish at it. And in a spectacularly unfortunate coincidence, the terrifying leader of the monsters is in the midst of planning an all out attack on earth… in Darkmouth.

Darkmouth: Worlds Explode

The second book in the monstrously funny and action-packed new series: Darkmouth. It’s going to be legendary.

The adventures of the most unfortunate Legend Hunter ever to don fighting armour and pick up a Dessicator continue…

On a list of things Finn never thought he’d wish for, a gateway bursting open in Darkmouth was right up there. But that’s about his only hope for finding his missing father. He’s searched for a map, he’s followed Steve into dead ends, but found nothing. And he’s still got homework to do.

But soon Finn and Emmie must face bizarre Legends, a ravenous world and a face from the past as they go where no Legend Hunter has gone before. Or, at least, where no legend Hunter has gone before and returned with their limbs in the correct order.

darkmouth1-1

Dip into it for…

…a pedestrian series opener that improves by the end of book two.  I found the second book of a much higher quality than the first mostly due to the fact that in the first book Finn, the protagonist, is sulky, his father Hugo is pushy and I could pick the inevitable betrayal from a certain character from the second they stepped on to the scene.  There is something seriously slow about the first book in the series that made me hesitant to pick up the second, but thankfully the second book featured much more of what I was expecting.  There was far more humour, a more interesting setting and problem to solve and the new character, Estravon, was far more interesting than any of the characters in the first book.  The action in the second book seemed more natural – in that there seemed to be obvious reasons as to why conflicts were occurring and the ending was both surprising and fast-paced.

An unexpected bonus in the books is the full page illustrations scattered here and there, as well as various other smaller images placed in between bits of text.  Regular followers of this blog will know that I think pictures make every book better and it was a nice touch to see the artist’s renderings of the Legend characters particularly.

Don’t dip if…darkmouth-2

…you’re expecting, as the blurb promised, that the stories will be “monstrously funny”.  There are a few smile-inducing moments here and there as well as a few dry asides, but unless you find sadsack teenagers and overbearing parents particularly amusing, you aren’t going to be slapping your thighs throughout.

Overall Dip Factor

I wish that I had just completely skipped The Legends Begin and started with Worlds Explode because it is far the better written of the two.  The pacing is more balanced, the reveals are more surprising (and therefore engaging) and generally the story flows a lot better than in the first book, which is marred by Finn’s constant musings about how he will never be as good as his father and woe is him etc, etc.  The second story also allows for more character development, as Emmie, Steve and Finn are thrown into situations that they haven’t prepared for and therefore have to draw on their own wiles to solve problems rather than have Hugo, Finn’s father, step in to solve everything.  I’m still a little hand-shy about the series to tell you the truth, but the ending of Worlds Explode in particular has me interested in what might happen next.  If only Hegarty could have brought the quality of writing at the end of the second book to bear in The Legends Begin, I’d be giving this series an unreserved thumbs up.

I hope your snacks lasted the distance and didn’t pita off toward the end (see what I did there?!)

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Surprising YA” Edition…

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I hope you aren’t too saddle sore from our Mega Supersized Round-Up earlier in the week, because I now have three YA titles for you that you will definitely want to be sizing up.  I’ve got historical fiction, fantasy and a bit of weird science for you, so we’d better get straight to it!

These Shallow Graves (Jennifer Donnelly)

*We received a copy of These Shallow Graves from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis: 

these shallow graves

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly  Published by Allen & Unwin, 22nd June 2016.  RRP: $16.99

 

Josephine Montfort comes from one of New York’s most wealthy families, but harbours a secret desire to be a journalist, uncovering the lives of the poor and downtrodden. When her father dies, apparently from suicide, Josephine decides to go out on a limb, putting her journalistic skills to the test in an investigation that will have major ramifications for her family…and herself, if she is discovered.

Muster up the motivation because…

It’s quite refreshing to see a historical murder mystery that isn’t set in Victorian England.  While all the manners and social proprieties are still there, These Shallow Graves has a slightly different flavour, as the “new” and “old” money families battle it out in an unspoken war to be the most prominent.  There’s even a particularly mouthy grandmother character who reminded me strongly of Shouty Doris!  Josephine is a character that young female readers will immediately be drawn to – fiercely independent despite her coddled existence, with a desire to step out of the boundaries that society has set for her.  I enjoyed how the author doesn’t try to make Jo more worldly than she could possibly have been, given her upbringing.  As she discovers more about the seedier side of life, it’s obvious that Jo is undergoing rapid personal growth and making decisions about who she will be in her pre-destined world.  There is the obligatory love triangle, between Jo, her intended marital match and Ed, the young journalist far below Jo’s lofty station who assists Jo in her investigations.  As far as the murder mystery goes, I wasn’t entirely gripped by these elements and would have preferred things on that front to move a lot faster.  The book is more a 50/50 split between romance and mystery however, and with romance not really being my thing, I didn’t end up loving this one but found it easy to get into nonetheless.  I’d definitely recommend this one to fans of historical fiction and particularly historical cosy mysteries, who are looking for a slight change of pace from the English mysteries that seem to be this genre’s bread and butter.

Brand it with:

Sisters doin’ it for themselves, investigative journalism, sticking up for the little guy

Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend (Alan Cumyn)

* We received a copy of Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend from Simon & Schuster Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis: hot pterodactyl boyfriend

Shiels is in her final year of high school, the student-body chair, has definite plans about studying political sociology at college after she graduates and can count on Sheldon, her boyfriend-fixture, to support her in everything she does. Then Pyke, a pterodactyl, turns up to attend Vista View High and Shiels’ carefully laid plans go awry.

Muster up the motivation because…

How could you not want to read this, with a title like Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend??  I remember being desperate to get my claws on this one when it was released and now that I’ve read it, it was entirely not what I was expecting!  I was thinking that this must be a comedy.  Had to be.  But surprisingly, this is actually a really down-to-earth story of a girl whose plans have been hit for a six, that just happens to include an actual pterodactyl as a character.  After reading it, I can see that this could be any typical YA story wherein the main character undergoes massive personal upheaval due to an unexpected occurrence – an illness, the death of a loved one, someone coming out, a friendship breakdown – but the particular unexpected occurrence featured here is Shiels falling in love with a pterodactyl.  If you can get your head around that, then you’ll be far more prepared than I going into the reading experience.  Having said that, I quickly became absorbed by Shiels’ story.  She’s a likeable character despite the fact that she has quite glaring personality flaws that cause problems in her relationships.  The situations she gets caught up in – apart from the whole pterodactyl thing, obviously – are believable and readers in the target age group should be able to relate.  I did find my interest waning a little around two-thirds of the way into the book, but I enjoyed the ending (which dipped into the “utterly bizarre” category of magical realism – or should that be “prehistoric realism”?) and overall I think this is a solid and engaging read with one big, flapping, screeching point of difference.  Having had a look on Goodreads, the ratings are completely split in a loved it/hated it divide, but I definitely enjoyed this one even though it didn’t turn out to be the comedy I expected it to be.

Brand it with:

I believe I can fly, diversity in education, prehistoric problems

The Witch’s Kiss (Katharine & Elizabeth Corr)

*We received a copy of The Witch’s Kiss from HarperCollins Australia for review* 

Two Sentence Synopsis: the witchs kiss

For Merry, being a witch hasn’t ever been much of a problem…until her actions nearly cost her boyfriend his life. But if she thought that was the worst that might happen, Merry is sadly mistaken – because an ancient curse is about to surface and Merry will need every ounce of her ability to safeguard the people of her town, or die in the attempt.

Muster up the motivation because…

I found this to be a solid, well-constructed story with just the right blend of contemporary teen angst and historical magical curse.  I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this book, as I was worried that the romance elements might overpower the fantasy elements of the story.  I should not have feared though, because the authors manage to balance those two parts masterfully, so that the inevitable romance between Jack and Merry neatly complements the heart-stabbing, murderous, magical bits.  It was super refreshing to see a strong sister-brother partnership as the main protagonists, and Leo is a great balance to Merry’s impulsiveness and tendency toward pessimism.  The story alternates between the present day, as Merry and Leo attempt to stop the King of Hearts, who is carrying out random attacks on innocent people in their town, and hundreds of years ago, when the curse on the King of Hearts originated.  As Merry becomes more involved in the curse unfolding in the present day, her links to her ancestors become clearer, and the ending deftly brings these two periods in history together at a cracking pace.  The only problem I had with this book is that it is a series-opener.  To me, this is the perfect kind of story for a standalone – the ending is not left as a cliffhanger and I felt like all the loose ends were tied up.  Sometimes I like to know that on finishing a book, I have experienced all there is to experience with a set of characters and I am happy to have done so.  I’m not entirely sure where the story will go in a sequel, but I was perfectly satisfied with this one as an entity in itself.  I’d recommend this to those who love fantasy stories that have a fable-type feel with a contemporary twist, and don’t mind a little bit of romance to tie things together.

Brand it with:

Which witch is which?, Curse you!, Unrequited love

Three very different YA titles for you here – surely there’s something you want to get your hands on?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

A Rebellious Read-It-If Review: Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club (and my first Top Book of 2016!)

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read it if NEW BUTTONI’m starting off the year in truly rebellious fashion by bringing you a TOP BOOK OF 2016 on the first day of the new year!  Yes, it is probably a bit early to be calling a Top Book of 2016, but this one really, truly is and I recommend that Bruce's Pickyou go out and acquire it immediately.  Today’s book, by an AUSTRALIAN author, features meticulously researched historical fiction combined with paranormal beast-slaying in a mash-up that works on every single level.  I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of today’s book from HarperCollins Australia during my attendance at the BTCYA event in November 2015.

Without further faffing about, may I present to you…Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

London, April 1812. Lady Helen Wrexhall is set to make her debut at the court of Queen Charlotte and officially step into polite Regency society and the marriage mart. Little does Helen know that step will take her from the opulent drawing rooms of Mayfair and the bright lights of Vauxhall Gardens into a shadowy world of missing housemaids and demonic conspiracies.

Standing between those two worlds is Lord Carlston, a man of ruined reputation and brusque manners. He believes Helen has a destiny beyond the ballroom; a sacred and secret duty. Helen is not so sure, especially when she discovers that nothing around her is quite as it seems, including the enigmatic Lord Carlston.

Against a backdrop of whispered secrets in St James’s Palace, soirees with Lord Byron and morning calls from Beau Brummell, Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club is a delightfully dangerous adventure of self-discovery and dark choices that must be made … whatever the consequences.

dark days club 2

Read it if:

*the thought of demonic creatures invading polite society is so grievous it has you reaching for the smelling salts in case you have a fit of the vapours

*you think the best hiding place for anything that must be kept away from the prying eyes of one’s relatives is down the front of one’s ballgown. 

*you like your Darcy-types brooding, dismissive and generally obnoxious – until they get their kit off in an unexpected situation that breaches all bounds of propriety

* you love period dramas and you also love paranormal ass-kicking adventures, and have been waiting, hoping and yearning for someone to put the two together in one thrilling, agitative adventure

I loved this book.

Plain and simple.

When I first read the blurb, I definitely thought that the content sounded like something I would enjoy, but I never expected to be thrust into such an exceptionally well-written work.  I truly can’t remember having such enjoyment in discovering a new fantasy series since I first stumbled upon Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy back in the early 2000s.  Happily, Alison Goodman is also an Australian author and so I can rest easy knowing that the future of Australian fantasy fiction for young adults will be just as worthy as its past.

The research that has gone into re-creating the Regency period here is just astounding.  From the details of clothing to the social interactions to the real-life celebrities of the time that have been slipped in here and there, my mind was thoroughly boggled at how the author managed to translate all that accurate information into a historical novel that also featured major fantasy elements.  Impressive, to say the least.  The accuracy of the period detail meant that I was immediately immersed in the historical setting and from there the fantasy bits, when they came, seemed a perfectly natural addition to the tale.

Lady Helen is a fully three-dimensional character of (reasonably) steady nerves and an abiding need to remain true to herself in a context in which social roles are ignored at one’s peril.  I adored Darby, Lady Helen’s stalwart lady’s maid and appreciated the depth of characterisation of the two main male protagonists, Lord Carlston and the Duke of Selborn.  Although it seems that these characters are foils for each other, they both possess personality traits that are largely hidden from public knowledge. While there is some romance in the book (which normally annoys me) it is not the simple love-triangle that we are so often subjected to and it is tempered by the historical setting.

I would have expected that given this is a mash-up of two usually separate genres, that one would be stronger than the other in the finished story, but the fantasy world that has been injected into the existing historical one is well-developed and it seems that there will be plenty more to discover about it in future instalments of the series.

It seems that I will have to now add Goodman’s back catalogue to my TBR list and I encourage you – whether you are a fan of historical fiction or fantasy (or just a bloody good read) – to get your hands on this one ASAP.  For your convenience, here are the alternative covers so you can keep a good eye out:

dark days club 1 dark days club 3

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Scaling Mt TBR in Graphic Novels…and a TOP BOOK OF 2015!

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I’ve been circling these four titles for months now and finally, FINALLY I’ve been able to round them up and drag them off my TBR stack! And as it turns out, one of them ended up being a TOP BOOK OF 2015 pick.  Bonus!

So today I’ve got two graphic novels, one graphic biography and one fully illustrated early-reader type novel.  Two I purchased aeons ago, one I was lucky enough to receive in a goodie bag from my recent HarperCollins BTCYA event and one I received unexpectedly from the publisher via Netgalley.  Let’s saddle up and ride on in!

Nimona (Noelle Stevenson)

Two Sentence Synopsis: nimona

Ballister Blackheart, reluctant villain and archnemesis to Sir Goldenloin has his cosy life interrupted by the unexpected arrival of a young, shape shifting sidekick, Nimona.  As if maintaining reluctant villainy and working to subvert the sinister Institution weren’t trying enough, Ballister now has to deal with a kill-happy teen monster busting down his doors and working outside the rules.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is one of my TOP BOOKS OF 2015, that’s why!  It’s not often that I become absorbed in the plot of a graphic novel, or feel particularly connected to the characters, but reading Nimona felt much like dipping into a complex, twisty novel, except with lots of pictures.  The characters are fleshed out and we’re given wibbly-wobbly glimpses (by way of flashbacks!) into their histories to provide some hint as to motivations and hidden connections.  Nimona is the quintessential, risk-taking teen (or is she?!) and the early scenes between her and Blackheart are laugh-out-loud material.  If that weren’t enough, there are dragons, explosions, hapless minions, fake limbs, poison apples and questions about what Sir Goldenloin keeps down his codpiece to keep it looking so…healthy.  Nimona is the full package – an exciting story with interesting characters, presented in an eye-catching format and topped off with humour and feels.  Yes, I said feels.  If you only read one YA graphic novel this year, make it this one.

Brand it with:

Haters gonna hate; big-hearted villains, fun with flame-throwing

Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven (Brandon Easton/Denis Medri)

*I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis: andre the giant

From his childhood on the family farm to hitting the big time in the wrestling world, this book charts the life story of Andre Roussimoff.  Focusing mostly on his time as a famous wrestler, the book gives an insight into the man behind the legend.

Muster up the motivation because:

It’s like the author saw The Simpson’s joke about Troy McClure’s appearance in the celebrity funeral “Andre the Giant, We Hardly Knew Ye” and decided to right that wrong. If you have any interest at all in Andre the Giant either as a wrestler or a film star, this book will provide plenty of information that is a surprise to you.  The book starts out with Andre’s idyllic childhood in France on his family’s farm – the only time he ever felt “normal” – and progresses through the ups and downs of his wrestling career to the end of his life. His vices aren’t shied away from, and even though my interest in the man came more from his movie appearances, I found it quite interesting to see the world behind the action and showboating of professional wrestling.  Seeing Andre’s struggles with acromegaly, especially toward the end of his life, was quite moving – particularly as he was still wrestling despite being almost unable to move for long periods of time.  This might well be a niche read, being as it is a graphic format and a biography, but I quickly became drawn in to the interesting story behind the “giant” we all know and love.

Brand it with:

Bigger than Ben Hur, Let’s get ready to rumble, Hulk Hogan’s a big girl’s blouse

Salt Water Taffy #3: The Truth About Dr True (Matthew Loux)

Two Sentence Synopsis: salt water taffy

In this third outing for Jack and Benny, forced to spend their summer holiday in tiny Chowder Bay, Maine, the boys stumble across an old bottle and with it, a murder mystery that cuts to the heart of the town.  But will they solve the mystery before the townsfolk do something they’ll regret?

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a fun, quick read for middle graders who like a bit of mystery and adventure in an easy-to-digest package.  I hadn’t read the two prior stories in the series, having chosen to start with number three because the blurb sounded more like my cup of tea than the other two stories, but the book works well as a standalone anyway.  While I wasn’t overly excited by the story itself – the answers seemed to be provided to the boys via verbose townspeople or excessively helpful spirits rather than through the boys’ endeavours – there is enough adventure here to satisfy middle grade readers looking for a brain-break and a bit of escapism.  The book is nicely presented too with the front and back covers bearing vintage-looking ads related to the story and the cartoon style art is eye-catching and easy to read.

Brand it with:

Summer holiday, message in a bottle, angry mobs

The Yeti Files #1: Meet the BigFeet (Kevin Sherry)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

meet the bigfeet

A charming and hilarious easy-read chapter book for kids, somewhere in-between Fly Guy and The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.  The Yeti family, who were forced into hiding after the release of a photo by George Vanquist, the ruthless cryptozoologist, decide to risk it all and meet up for a cracking family reunion.

Muster up the motivation because:

You ain’t never gonna find a nicer bunch of mythical creatures anywhere.  Apart from being packed with illustrations and interesting fonts to aid young readers, our narrator, yeti Blizz Richards, is just a big ol’ marshmallow that you’ll want to invite round to your house for a game of backyard volleyball.  The humour alternates between slapstick and dry and there are plenty of interesting non-yeti characters to liven things up.  While this technically isn’t a graphic novel, the illustrations are an integral part of the story and will draw in reluctant and confident readers alike.  I’m interested in finding out what happens in the later books in this series and will try this out as the first “read-over-a-few-sittings” book for the oldest mini-fleshling in the dwelling.  I’d highly recommend this for youngsters aged 6-9 who are up for adventure and a good laugh.

Brand it with:

Status set to public, outdoorsy fun, family reunions

 *I just knocked FOUR books off my TBR stack!*

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What a relief to actually make some headway into the old TBR shelf!  And with such a fun and engaging set of reads, too.  I hope there’s something in the bunch that has set your eyes alight and encouraged you to add to your (no doubt overflowing) TBR stack. 

Until next time,

Bruce

 

An MG Double-Dip, A Top Book of 2015 and a Giveaway!

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imageWelcome to a very special Double Dip review and giveaway! Today I have two books for a middle-grade audience that were kindly provided to the shelf for review by HarperCollins Australia – thanks! – and that would make perfect stocking stuffers for a worthy young person of your acquaintance.  One of these is hands-down one of my TOP BOOKS OF 2015! Read on for details on how to enter the giveaway – I will be providing one winner with their choice of one of these books! Hurrah!

Let’s get on with it!

First up is my TOP BOOK OF 2015 pick – The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Archer B. Helmsley has grown up in a house full of oddities and treasures collected by his grandparents, the famous explorers. He knows every nook and cranny. He knows them all too well. After all, ever since his grandparents went missing on an iceberg, his mother barely lets him leave the house.

Archer B. Helmsley longs for adventure. Grand adventures, with parachutes and exotic sunsets and interesting characters. But how can he have an adventure when he can’t leave his house?

It helps that he has friends like Adélaïde L. Belmont, who must have had many adventures since she ended up with a wooden leg. (Perhaps a crocodile ate it. Perhaps not.) And Oliver Glub. Oliver will worry about all the details (so that Archer doesn’t have to).

And so Archer, Adélaïde, and Oliver make a plan. A plan to get out of the house, out of their town entirely. It’s a good plan.

Well, it’s not bad, anyway.

But nothing goes quite as they expect.

Dip into it for…

…a gently unfolding story of friendship and breaching self-imposed limits.  Before I get into dissecting the story, let medoldrums point out that the lovely hardback edition to which I was given access is illustrated throughout with FULL PAGE, FULL COLOUR illustrations that are just exquisite and lend that extra bit of specialness to the book.  The story begins by introducing us to Archer B. Helmsley, his unusual family circumstances and desire to break out of his mother’s overprotective clutches.  Soon enough, Oliver Glub (it’s good to be a Glub!), Archer’s next door neighbour and schoolmate, joins the fray, lending the voice of reason to Archer’s ill-thought-out plans.  Finally, just when the reader thinks they have learned all there is to learn about Archer and Oliver, and can predict how the story will unfold, we are introduced to Adelaide, French immigrant, ex-ballet dancer, and possessor of one wooden leg (possibly oak).  Adelaide was the real stand-out character for me and I absolutely adored the way that she was rendered by the author – confident but not sassy, self-possessed but not selfish and exceptional but not freakish.

The story is filled with dry, subtle humour and an atmosphere that suggests that anything is possible, despite the fact that most of Archer’s plans are foiled by fate or foe quite early on in proceedings.

Don’t dip if…

…you are expecting a story replete with action and conquest.  While there is some action in the story, not least of which being the unexpectedly life-threatening ending, the story focuses more on the developing friendship between the three protagonists and mystery surrounding the disappearance of Archer’s grandparents.  In a sense, Archer is caught in the doldrums in this story, and the adventure is more in the incidental surprises thrown up by an ordinary life rather than those encountered by well-travelled explorers.

Overall Dip Factor

Being a regular reviewer means that I am granted access, on occasion to some very high quality books.  The Doldrums really blew me away with how beautifully produced this hardback edition is – it’s something unusual and provided a wonderful print reading experience (which is why I’m not giving my copy away!!).  Just in terms of its look and feel, this book would make a great “Wow!” book to slip into a Christmas stocking.  The story is also unusual in that I expected, from the first few chapters, that the plot would quickly set up the mystery of Archer’s grandparents, provide some useful friends for Archer, and send them off on a whirlwind, whacky adventure.  Much more is going on in the story however, and it is definitely worth a look for young and older readers who enjoy subtle humour, a touch of the ridiculous and characters that you will want to be friends with, long after you’ve finished the book.

Now onto some Aussie middle-grade, also illustrated throughout and featuring a touch of the ridiculous – Olive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad and illustrated by Lucia Masciullo.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Olive has always dreamed of attending boarding school, but Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers is not what she expected. To tell the truth, dear reader, it is not what anyone expected!


The headmistress is completely bonkers and Pig McKenzie, school bully and all-round nasty swine, is determined to make Olive’s life unbearable.


Olive, however, is clever, sweet and kind, and soon gains the loyalty and devotion of three rats, a short-sighted moose, a compulsive liar and a goose who faints at the sight of cherries.


But will friendship and wits be enough when Pig McKenzie puts his Truly Wicked Plan into gear? Or will Olive be cast out of Groves forever?

Dip into it for…

…the kind of school that kids have longed to attend since time immemorial.  Groves is a school in which explosions, mess, general naughtiness, high-flying acrobatics, and throwing one’s dinner around the room are commonplace.  It olive of grovesalso features a wonderfully diverse group of talking animals as students – including my favourite, the perpetually anxious goose, Glenda (Oh, mercy!) – and a headmistress who turns a blind eye to practically every strange thing happening in her school.  Olive is a charming, steadfast, courageous young lass who does a wonderful job of making the best of a very tricky (and in some cases, literally sticky) situation and with the help of her ratty roommates, sets about proving that she is not a perfectly ordinary girl and deserves a place at Groves, in all its diverse glory, even if she has to scale a highwire wearing only tatty old long-johns to prove it.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re expecting a story that makes a lot of sense.  I suspect that this is one of those stories that will appeal to kids much more than adult readers of middle grade (although its complexity did grow significantly toward the end), but if you’re not into characters that are over-the-top and general silliness abounding, then this book is probably not for you.

Overall Dip Factor

I can imagine Olive of Groves as a wonderfully cheeky read-aloud for a classroom of mischief-loving grade three or four children.  The book has a narrator that certainly does not mince words and provides a particularly amusing commentary on the antics of Olive and her friends (and nemeses).  Apart from the chaos and high jinx that seems to invade Groves’ every corner, this book also provides some solid inspiration for those needing to stand up and be counted when it seems that the world (or even just one Very Despicable Pig) is against you.

And now it’s……

Giveaway Time!

I am going to offer ONE winner their choice of one of these books.  The giveaway is open internationally and will run from the moment this post goes live (NOW!) until midnight November 27th (Brisbane time).  The winner will be chosen using a random number generator and will have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a new winner is chosen!

To enter, just comment on this post with the title of the book you would like to win – either The Doldrums or Olive of Groves.

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Bruce Steps Out for Between the Covers YA Event Brisbane!

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Last Thursday evening, something unprecedented happened.

I left the shelf.BTCYA Logo

I’ll give you a moment to absorb that, frankly, unlikely and unbelievable information.

Yes, last Thursday evening, HarperCollins Teen held a fan event for voracious readers of YA to inspire and incite fever and excitement over some of their upcoming titles.  And I made the unprecedented decision to strap on my feet (quite literally, as you will see) and get out there amongst the fleshlings.

First I had to ensure that I had functioning tootsies for the evening, after an incident with a mini-fleshling caused my duct tapefeet to part company with the rest of my person.  First I tried superglue and when that didn’t work, clutching at straws, I took the drastic measure of duct taping my feet to my body.  At least the grey tape matches my hide.

It’s hardly even noticeable, right?!

On arrival at the State Library of Queensland, I attempted to blend in with the fleshlings and their goodie bags.  I think I did a fine job and they never noticed a thing.

blending in_Fotor

I even managed to snap a shot with Terry, the YA-reading Dinosaur mascot of the Between the Covers team!

bruce and terry_Fotor

And I got to rub shoulders with some of Brisbane’s best and brightest bloggers in the YA sphere.  Here are some of those that attended.

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We were even treated to a chat from recent Gold Inky winner, Gabrielle Tozer – author of YA comedy contemporary titles The Intern and its sequel Faking It – and not only did she manage to photobomb my selfie, she was kind enough to sign a copy of her first book for me…selfie photobombintern cover_Fotor_Fotor_Collage

I’m not sure whether she intentionally meant the “rock” pun, given my stony nature, but I appreciated it nonetheless.

There was also plenty of loot on hand for attendees, with a few brilliantly enticing ARCs in our goodie bags, including Oz YA titles Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman (described as a cross between Buffy and Jane Austen!!) and This is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang, author of Falling Into Place.

ARCs_Fotor

I’m also itching to get into Demon Road by Derek Landy (of Skulduggery Pleasant fame), which looks like it will be delightfully cheeky and action-packed.  I was lucky enough to win some extra goodies, which included the graphic novel Nimona by Noelle Stevenson; a book that has been on my TBR for a while.

In fact, I was so swamped with loot, that I was very nearly crushed under the mountainous pile of it.

loot_Fotor

All in all it was a wonderfully successful first jaunt out into the big wide world.  Mad Martha was exceptionally jealous that she didn’t get to fulfil her usual role as “Shelf Venturer-Outerer” given the amount of loot involved, but she needn’t worry as I doubt I will be making a habit of it.  I’m certain I lost a little stone off my ears in the journey there and back.

Many thanks to HarperCollins Australia for extending an invitation to we shelf dwellers!

Until next time,

Bruce