Gabbing About Graphic Novels: Zita the Spacegirl…

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Well it’s only been a few days since I borrowed a stack of graphic novels from the library, but I’ve already chewed through a couple of them and it’s time to focus in on Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl series.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Zita’s life took a cosmic left turn in the blink of an eye.

When her best friend is abducted by an alien doomsday cult, Zita leaps to the rescue and finds herself a stranger on a strange planet. Humanoid chickens and neurotic robots are shocking enough as new experiences go, but Zita is even more surprised to find herself taking on the role of intergalactic hero. Before long, aliens in all shapes and sizes don’t even phase her. Neither do ancient prophecies, doomed planets, or even a friendly con man who takes a mysterious interest in Zita’s quest.

Zita the Spacegirl is a fun, captivating tale of friendship and redemption from Flight veteran Ben Hatke. It also has more whimsical, eye-catching, Miyazaki-esque monsters than you can shake a stick at.

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Target Age Range: 

Middle grade and above

Genre:

Sci fi

Art Style:

Cartoonish and chock full of heart

Reading time:

I knocked this one over in about twenty minutes.

Let’s get gabbing:

Before I get into this book too much, I should point out that we Shelf-dwellers just love Ben Hatke.  It started with Nobody Likes A Goblin and now we are on a mission to acquire and read all of his work.  We already had Return of Zita the Spacegirl on our TBR shelf, but it was suggested that we read the first in the series before trying that one, so we were lucky enough to find this at our local library.

Plot wise, Zita and her friend Joseph are transported to another world after giving in to temptation and pushing a big red button that fell out of the sky.  The two are immediately separated and it is up to Zita to find Joseph and see them safely home, before the planet they are on is destroyed by a fiery meteor – nothing like a bit of time pressure to spice things up!.  Along the way, Zita meets some friendly and not-so-friendly folk and eventually has to make a decision about whether or not she is ready to return home.

The strength of this tale is in the characters.  From Zita herself to each and every character of whom we are given just a glimpse in the background frames, Hatke brings this story to life with all manner of weird and wonderful folk.  There’s Strong-Strong, a big, brown Domo-kun-like character with a heart of gold, Pizzicato, a mouse with some gnarly armour, and a vengeful and righteous killer robot named One, to name just a few.  Hatke has an incredible knack for drawing characters to which the reader can be sympathetic, even if they’re reasonably villainous.  They’ve inspired Mad Martha to create them in crochet before and as we were paging through Zita’s story, it was obvious that Mad Martha was ticking off on her fabric fingers which characters she would like to make next.

The story is more complicated than the basic rescue-a-friend, save-the-world plot type, with difficult decisions being thrown up along the way.  Zita also has to think on her feet and go with her gut about who to trust and who to avoid if she is to find her way home safely.  There are some delightfully creative inclusions here and there, my favourite of which is Door Paste – like a tube of toothpaste, but it creates a a door if you smear it on a flat surface.  Perfect for quick escapes!

Overall snapshot:

Hatke has done it again with Zita’s adventures.  If you are (or know of) a fan of science fiction, delightful artwork, exciting adventures, themes of friendship and loyalty and strong female protagonists, you must get your claws on Zita the Spacegirl.

And now here’s Return of Zita the Spacegirl, which is book three in the series.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Ben Hatke brings back our intrepid space heroine for another delightful sci-fi/fantasy adventure in this New York Times-Bestselling graphic novel trilogy for middle grade readers.

Zita the Spacegirl has saved planets, battled monsters, and wrestled with interplanetary fame. But she faces her biggest challenge yet in the third and final installment of the Zita adventures. Wrongfully imprisoned on a penitentiary planet, Zita has to plot the galaxy’s greatest jailbreak before the evil prison warden can execute his plan of interstellar domination!

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Target Age Range: 

Middle grade and above

Genre:

Sci fi

Art Style:

Cartoonish and chock full of heart

Reading time:

As above, this was about twenty minutes uninterrupted reading

Let’s get gabbing:

You may have picked up that I skipped book two in the series, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, because the library didn’t have it (boo!).  This wasn’t too much of a drama because the opening scenes cleverly work some of the key points from books one and two into the dialogue between Zita and her captor.  Yes, this book begins with Zita imprisoned and seemingly helpless, although it is apparent that in book two she had been gadding about making a name for herself across the galaxy and fostering the reputation of someone not to be trifled with.

The plot focuses on Zita’s attempts to escape her prison by finding a jump crystal with which she can power up the red-button thingy and take herself back home.  Along the way she is helped out by a mysterious masked boy and her cellmates, a skeleton named Femur who possesses some very interestingly shaped digits, and Ragpile, an animated pile of rags.  I absolutely loved the little twist at the end concerning Ragpile and Femur and it encapsulates the ingenuity and humour that is woven into these stories.  Old friends also make an appearance, including Pizzicato, Strong-Strong and One, as well as some folk from the second book who I hadn’t met before, most interesting of which being a space-pirate type lady and her mysterious cat.

Zita’s adventures eventually find her back on Earth and even though it is claimed that this is the final story in the series, the ending holds a little hope that there might be more.

Overall snapshot:

This was an action packed way to finish the series, full of escapes, ingenious ideas and teamwork.  Themes of betrayal and forgiveness loom large and the ensemble cast of characters ensures that there’ll be something for everyone in Zita’s final adventure.

I’m submitting Return of Zita the Spacegirl for my Mount TBR Reading ChallengeMount TBR Reading Challenge for 2017! You can check out my progress here.

Also, I can’t find a space to fit them on the blog, but I have also read and reviewed Livingstone Volume 1 and Bloody Chester from my stack of borrowed graphic novels.  Click on the book titles to see my reviews on Goodreads.

Until next time,

Bruce

Get Well Soon: A Five Things I’ve Learned Review…

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.aaaaand a Top Book of 2017 Pick!

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Today’s book is all about death and disease and as such, you wouldn’t necessarily think it would be all that enjoyable to read.  You would, however, be wrong.  Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright is a massively accessible nonfiction book with a conversational tone and enough humour to keep the (in some places) quite terrifying content, readable.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A humorous book about history’s worst plagues—from the Antonine Plague, to leprosy, to polio—and the heroes who fought them

In 1518, in a small town in France, Frau Troffea began dancing and didn’t stop. She danced herself to her death six days later, and soon thirty-four more villagers joined her. Then more. In a month more than 400 people had died from the mysterious dancing plague. In late-nineteenth-century England an eccentric gentleman founded the No Nose Club in his gracious townhome—a social club for those who had lost their noses, and other body parts, to the plague of syphilis for which there was then no cure. And in turn-of-the-century New York, an Irish cook caused two lethal outbreaks of typhoid fever, a case that transformed her into the notorious Typhoid Mary and led to historic medical breakthroughs.

Throughout time, humans have been terrified and fascinated by the plagues they’ve suffered from. Get Well Soon delivers the gruesome, morbid details of some of the worst plagues in human history, as well as stories of the heroic figures who fought to ease their suffering. With her signature mix of in-depth research and upbeat storytelling, and not a little dark humor, Jennifer Wright explores history’s most gripping and deadly outbreaks.

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And here are Five Things I’ve Learned From Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright:

1. The incredibly deadly Spanish Flu didn’t actually originate in Spain.

2. No matter what the disease, it never does anyone any good when a stigma is attached to those who carry it.

3.  Having a plague that makes you dance non-stop for hours (or days) at a time may sound like fun, until your bones start protruding through your skin just as “Blame it on the Boogie” comes on.

4. Indulging in an illicit romp with a lady of the night is all fun and games until  your nose (and probably hers also) falls off.

5. People actually queued up at one time in history to allow a madman to drill holes in their skulls, in the hope that it would provide a cure for their assorted maladies.

I can’t remember when I last giggled so much while reading about infectious disease as I did while reading this book.  In terms of making nonfiction books accessible, Wright has done a bang-up job here with a narrative style that is light – but never makes light – despite content that can result in some pretty sobering reading.  The humour in this book is almost a necessary vent for the anger and sadness and bafflement some readers may experience while finding out about the ways in which some very sick people – as well as the people who tried to help them – were treated at various points throughout history.

The book covers various plagues in separate sections and includes famous plagues, such as the Black Death, Spanish Influenza, and Polio, alongside lesser known ailments such as the dancing plague mentioned in the blurb, the “plague” of lobotomies orchestrated by William Jackson Freeman III and the plague of Encephalitis Lethargia, which results in the loss of any kind of emotion or motivation and leaves sufferers, in some cases, like living corpses.  Part of the focus of the book is on how authorities and others dealt with these diseases when they first appeared and how this action or inaction affected the disease’s spread.  It’s fascinating to see how the work of some individuals and groups to gain evidence for the causes of certain diseases – cholera being a case in point – was pooh-poohed (pardon the pun) by the authorities and scientific community even in the face of growing numbers of people contracting the disease.

I suspect this book won’t necessarily cut it for those hoping for a scientific look at plagues and their causes, but for the casual reader and those interested in social responses to medical disasters, the book will provide enough information to be going on with.  The style of writing feels like narrative nonfiction, in part because of the way in which the author has highlighted the individuals involved in the outbreaks of each specific disease.  While the use of the term “heroes” to describe these people feels a bit twee to me, I appreciate the fact that these people should be acknowledged and possibly lauded as household names more than they usually are.

My favourite part of the book was the section dealing with Spanish influenza, simply because of the dastardly bad timing that meant this disease came to prominence at the same time as World War 1, leading to catastrophic breakdowns in communication between authorities and the general public that, had this been different, could have saved many lives.  Looking back on the content, I was mildly disappointed that the Ebola virus was not included in the list of diseases, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

If you, like me, enjoy reading about major global disasters in a style that won’t freak you out too badly or exacerbate general feelings of anxiety about the state of the world, this would definitely be one to add to your TBR.

Oh, and I’m adding this to my  Colour Coded Challenge as well.  Check out my progress here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Fiction in 50 January 2017 Challenge

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Welcome to our first Fiction in 50 micro-narrative writing challenge for 2017!  If you’d like to join in, simply create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words inspired by our monthly prompt, then link your effort to the comments of this post.  For more information, click on the image at the top of the post!

Our prompt for this month is…

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…and I have titled my contribution:

New-Age Man

All around Kenneth, revellers kissed and threw streamers. 

1992.

The world had changed and Kenneth knew that he must change too lest this exciting new world pass him by.

Resolutely, he decided on his first act as a new, more forward-thinking man: the purchase of an up-to-date globe.


 

With two words to spare!  I can’t wait to see what everyone else has come up with.  Don’t forget to share this challenge around if you know anyone who might want to have a go.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Fi50 Reminder and Gabbing about Graphic Novels…

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It’s nearly time for our first Fiction in 50 challenge for the year!  Fi50 for 2017 will kick off on Monday and out post for January is …

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To participate, just create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words, post it and add your link to the comments of Monday’s Fi50 post.  For more information and future prompts, click here.


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It’s time to get gabbing about graphic novel goodness and today I have two options for you, each weirder than the last.  First up, there’s Chickenhare by Chris Grine.  I’m submitting this one for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017 and for the Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge under category two: a book with the name of a bird in the title.  You can check out my progress in all of my challenges for this year here.  Anyway, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Chickenhare: half chicken, half rabbit, 100% hero!

What’s a chickenhare? A cross between a chicken and a rabbit, of course. And that makes Chickenhare the rarest animal around! So when he and his turtle friend Abe are captured and sold to the evil taxidermist Klaus, they’ve got to find a way to escape before Klaus turns them into stuffed animals. With the help of two other strange creatures, Banjo and Meg, they might even get away. But with Klaus and his thugs hot on their trail, the adventure is only just beginning for this unlikely quartet of friends.

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I’ve had this one on my TBR shelf for about four months or so after I impulse bought it because it sounded wacky.  Wacky it certainly is, and I didn’t quite expect how dark it would get in some places.  I’d have to say that while middle graders could certainly read and enjoy this, it’s probably more suited to slightly older readers who aren’t easily shocked (or grossed out).

So Chickenhare and Abe are sold to a taxidermist and in order to affect an escape, they must team up with a mad monkey (or is he?) and a strange girl creature with horns.  All is not so simple as it seems however, because Klaus, the taxidermist, has vowed never to let any of his “pets” escape since he lost his most beloved animal, a goat called Mr Buttons.  Whacking and falling out of windows ensues (on the part of the enemy) and while our heroic quartet manage to escape, it is out of the frying pan and into the fire as the team tries to navigate pitch dark tunnels that are plagued with Shromph, little trollish creatures with big pointy teeth.

And this is where the goat corpse comes in.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, but just be warned that the half decomposed corpse of Mr Buttons plays a major role in the denouement of this adventure.  I will readily admit that it is easily the best characterisation of a deceased goat that I have yet seen in children’s literature.

The story ends on a mild cliffhanger and while there were certainly parts of  this that had me going “Eeergh”, “Blaaagh” and “Oooh, that’s not cricket!” respectively, I do actually want to know what happens to our four friends because there is a bit of a suggestion that at least two of them may not be exactly what they seem.

Again, even though the art style is quite colourful and cartoonish, the content and tone of the book is probably best suited to the YA aged reader and above.

Next up I have the first volume of stories from the popular Adventure Time TV series, Adventure Time, Volume 1 by Ryan North, Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s ADVENTURE TIME! Join Finn the Human, Jake the Dog, and Princess Bubblegum for all-new adventures through The Land of Ooo.

The totally algebraic adventures of Finn and Jake have come to the comic book page! The Lich, a super-lame, SUPER-SCARY skeleton dude, has returned to the the Land of Ooo, and he’s bent on total destruction! Luckily, Finn and Jake are on the case…but can they succeed against their most destructive foe yet? Featuring fan-favorite characters Marceline the Vampire Queen, Princess Bubblegum, Lumpy Space Princess and the Ice King!

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I picked this up from the library on a whim in the hope that it would allow me to find out the basic gist of the TV show without having to actually watch it.  Being a trendy sort of a gargoyle, I like to try and keep up with what the young folk are watching, if I can manage it.  While I do feel that having read this has given me a basic grasp of who’s who and what’s what, I can’t say for certain that I actually enjoyed the read.

Essentially, in this volume, a big, nasty skeleton warrior called the Lich turns up with a nefarious sack which has the power to suck all matter into its depths.  Unsurprisingly enough, Jake, Finn and all the inhabitants of the Land of Ooo (and then some), get sucked into the bag and end up in a desert landscape, from which there is no escape, let alone any sandwiches not actually made of sand.

As more of Finn’s friends (and enemies) get sucked into the Lich’s sack, it becomes apparent that they will all have to work together to save Ooo and the planet.  And that is exactly what they do.  Having not seen the show before, this graphic novel does give a good overview of who the important characters are and what their general roles and characteristics and catchphrases happen to be in the series.  There were a number of pretty funny scenes and bits of dialogue throughout, but I found a lot of the “catchphrase” type bits rather tedious.  I don’t think they translated as well to paper as they might in the actual TV series.

While I feel that I now do have a bit of an idea what the show is about, I would still like to know more…but I think I’ll just have to bite the bullet and actually watch the damn thing and save myself the bother of having to read pages and pages of high fives and such.

Don’t forget to join in with Fi50 on Monday!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Meandering through Middle Grade: Spy Toys

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As a kid, did you have a teddy bear whose ears were slightly nibbled at the edges?  Or a doll whose hair would never quite sit flat?  Then today’s book is for you, and all the kids out there who appreciate toys that aren’t exactly how they are depicted on the box. Today I bring you Spy Toys by Mark Powers, which we received for review from Bloomsbury Australia and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The world’s leading toy manufacturer makes playthings for the rich and famous, and every toy they create contains a tiny computerised brain and a unique personality. These toys are seriously awesome! But every so often there’s a faulty toy …

Dan is a Snugliffic Cuddlestar bear – he should be perfect for hugging. But because of a faulty chip, Dan is so strong he could crush a car. Thrown on to the rejects pile, he meets Arabella, a Loadsasmiles Sunshine Doll, who has a very short temper and is absolutely NOT good with children. Soon Dan, Arabella and Flax (a custom-made police robot rabbit gone AWOL) are recruited by Auntie Roz, the ‘M’ of the toy world, and together they make up THE SPY TOYS.

Their first mission: to protect the prime minister’s eight-year-old son from being kidnapped ..

 

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Spy Toys by Mark Powers.  Published by Bloomsbury Australia, 12th January, 2017.  RRP: $12.99

 

We on the shelf, being a little bit not-quite-right ourselves, thoroughly enjoyed this original, fun, fast-paced, funny early middle grade offering.  Dan is a teddy bear designed for hugging but could crush a child with his malfunctioning strength chip.  Arabella is meant to bring sunshine into a little child’s life, but has a snappy comeback that could burn your ears off.  And Flax…well, he’s a bunny with a problem with authority.  These three toys, after managing to save themselves from the reject pile, are charged with the job of protecting the Prime Minister’s son – what better way to hide bodyguards in plain sight, than to disguise them as toys? – and so the intrepid trio become…Spy Toys!  While it’s a steep learning curve for our sharp-clawed, sharp-tongued and sharp-eyed friends, they must do all they can to protect the Prime Minister’s son from a criminal gang run by an elephant-human hybrid ex-circus clown, or perish in the attempt.

This early chapter book is pure, unadulterated fun from beginning to end, with oodles of line drawings throughout to add zest to the action.  There’s no mucking around with boring filler either: from the moment Dan is singled out as a defective toy it’s non-stop action, escapes and chases until the thrilling (and quite dangerous!) finale.  Clearly the author isn’t afraid to throw in a bit of silliness – the human-animal hybrid gang being a case in point – but there are also some nicely touching scenes in which the Prime Minister learns a bit about being an attentive parent – awwww!  The Snaztacular Ultrafun toy factory also had something of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory about it – I can imagine kids desperate for a golden ticket to visit such an exciting place!

The three heroes are loveable, in a defective sort of way and I can’t wait to see where this series goes next.  As an early chapter book, it’s the perfect length for newly independent readers who love action, adventure and comedy all rolled into one.

For the device-happy reader, the book also has an accompanying app, in which the user must help Dan the bear leap over barrels and boxes on a conveyor belt to avoid being dumped down the reject toy chute at the Snaztacular Ultrafun factory.  The game is almost embarrassingly simple, but the eldest mini-fleshling in the dwelling (at six years old) proclaimed it the “best game ever” and got far more mileage out of playing it than I would have expected.  It’s also a satisfyingly small download so you don’t have to worry about it taking up too much space on your phone or device.

Spy Toys is definitely an intriguing opener to the series and I can’t wait to join Dan, Arabella and Flax on their next spy-tastic adventure!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Meandering through Middle Grade: Night of the Living Worms…

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Today’s little gem is an illustrated early chapter book that will have all those mini-fleshlings who are ready to move on from such favoured duos as Elephant & Piggie clamouring for more.  We received Night of the Living Worms: A Speed Bump & Slingshot Misadventure by Dave Coverly from PanMacmillan Australia for review, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

What’s a bird to do when his sibling is a big-time celebrity? It’s a question Speed Bump has to deal with every single morning, because his brother happens to be the one and only Early Bird. You know, THE Early Bird, who ALWAYS gets the worm! Unfortunately, Speed Bump is a sleepy little bird with a big head and tiny wings who’s worried he’ll never live up to his brother. But he has a great buddy, the ever-hungry Slingshot, who knows how to lift his spirits. Together, they end up on an adventure deep in the nighttime forest, where they’re forced to confront something more terrifying—and slimier—than they’ve ever imagined. It could all go horribly wrong . . . or it could just change Speed Bump’s luck for good.

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If there’s one thing that draws me back to “children’s” books again and again, it is the unashamed acknowledgement that illustrations and text are made for each other.  Night of the Living Worms sits in that category of books between picture books and chapter books, wherein the author knows that for beginning readers – and indeed, for any reader who enjoys more context around their text – illustrations are essential.  This book is a bit of a combination between chapter book and graphic novel, with no more than a paragraph of text on each page, some of which is encased in speech bubbles, and every page is adorned with eye-popping line art to bring the story to life.

Speed Bump is a good sleeper who lives in the shadow of his older brother, Early Bird.  As we all know, Early Bird gets the worm and for this reason, Speed Bump has to content himself with nuts and berries for snacking on, until such time as he can beat his seemingly unbeatable brother to that elusive worm.  Slingshot is Speed Bump’s best friend and a more stalwart and supportive companion a bird could not wish to find.  When the two decide to take up a foolproof strategy to beat Early Bird to the worm, things don’t go as planned.  There are worms available for the plucking alright, but it turns out that maybe these worms have a plan all their own to defeat Early Bird!

Helped by a collection of forest creatures, Speed Bump and Slingshot must find courage they didn’t know they had and find a way to save the day, before Early Bird meets a nasty, worm-driven end.

This book was heaps of fun to read and the characters are vivid and full of personality.  The nightwalker worms were actually pretty creepy when viewed all together, but there are plenty of laughs throughout the story that will please reluctant readers and those who just want to have fun in their reading.  As an early chapter book, it’s a quick read for an accomplished reader, but for those just starting out on longer books it should provide just enough challenge, as well as plenty of support through the illustrations and use of white space and speech bubbles.  I quite enjoyed a selection of illustrated punny goodness early on in the tale, with various birds making various punny comments to elicit a guffaw or two.

The ending of the book is both exciting and quite fitting for the trouble that Speed Bump and Slingshot went to – as well as for the trouble they got themselves in!  This book also contains a preview of the second book in the series, Night of the Living Shadows, to further hook in young readers and create anticipation.  I’d say this intrepid duo are definitely one to watch if you have a mini-fleshling in your dwelling who is just beginning to tackle longer books, or indeed one that just loves a good comic adventure story with larger than life protagonists.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Shelfies: My Year in Book Titles 2016

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It’s time once again for a cheeky look back on my 2016 – in book titles!  You are welcome to join in with this fun little game that I have been playing since 2014.  Essentially, I have a set of sentence starters and finish them off with the titles of books that I have read this year.  Given that this year I have read more books than ever before, I will be spoiled for choice!

It’s fun.  It’s frivolous.  It’s frivolous fun.  Join in!

So far, I would describe this year as being: Fuzzy

I’m tipping that the next big thing in Reality TV shows will be: Crochet Taxidermy

I could have cried when: The Monster on the Road is Me

I would love to have some respite from: Peril at End House

The most unexpected thing that happened this year involved: Lily and the Octopus

My non-bookish friends would say I’m:  Oddest of All 

My motto for 2017 will be: Don’t Get Caught

I am most looking forward to: The Birth of Kitaro

A recurring dream I’ve had this year features: Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse

If you looked under my couch you would see: The Nose Pixies

If I could no longer blog, I would probably pursue a career in: How Not to Disappear

Something most people don’t know about me is: I Am Princess X

 

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Until next time,

Bruce