Picture Book Perusal: I Just Ate My Friend…

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picture book perusal button

I’ve got a new book on the block for fans of subversive picture books of the style of Jon Klassen today, with I Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

This beautiful, innovate picture book from an enormously talented new creator will make you laugh out loud. The search for a true friend is something everyone can relate to – from the very young to the very old.

I just ate my friend. He was a good friend. But now he is gone. Would you be my friend?

A hilarious story about the search for friendship and belonging… and maybe a little bit about the importance of impulse control… from an amazing new creator.

i just ate my friend

I Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th July 2017.  RRP:$24.99

A monster realises the error of his ways after eating its only friend. Will the quest for a new friend result in success…or dinner?  This was a totally fun read that resulted in a few bemused looks as the realisation dawned that the monster did actually just eat its friend and now required a replacement.  For friendship, that is.  Not for eating.  Definitely not.

The book reads like a cross between Please Mr Panda and Ugly Fish as once the friend has been eaten, the protagonist monster goes on a hunt for a new buddy, asking all manner of variously weird, winged, toothy, leggy creatures whether they’ll be its friend.  All the creatures asked have perfectly valid reasons for denying the request (except for the cranky looking fanged dragonfly thing that responds simply with a “No”) and it quickly becomes apparent that the monster may well have eaten its only friend.

There is definitely a Klassenesque feel about the story, with the eating of the friend presented bluntly, with no explanation as to why the monster may have felt the need to nosh on its only mate.  The monster differs from most of Klassen’s morally bankrupt characters however, in that it seems genuinely remorseful once the consequences of its actions become apparent.  Those who enjoy reading these subversive types of picture books can probably guess what happens in the end, but it will be no less of an enjoyable read for guessing correctly.

The illustrations consist of bold, bright colours set against a deep green, blue and black background and we just loved the array of strange creatures that populate the story.  The text comes in short bursts so the book is perfect for little ones just learning to read as they will quickly come to remember the words on each page thanks to the repetition in the text.

The best indicator that the mini-fleshlings enjoyed this book is that upon finishing it, they immediately requested that it be read again.  I’m not sure whether this had something to do with the disbelief of how the story ended, but they definitely wanted to go back and have a second look at this funny, quirky and just a little bit scary story.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Corpselight: Paranormal Creatures and Pregnancy on the Streets of Brisvegas…

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corpselight

If you are as much a fan of Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant series of paranormal police procedural novels as we are, you really should prick up your pointy, furry ears for the book we have for you today.  We received Corpselight, being the second book in Angela Slatter’s Verity Fassbinder paranormal detective series, from Hachette Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Life in Brisbane is never simple for those who walk between the worlds.

Verity’s all about protecting her city, but right now that’s mostly running surveillance and handling the less exciting cases for the Weyrd Council – after all, it’s hard to chase the bad guys through the streets of Brisbane when you’re really, really pregnant.

An insurance investigation sounds pretty harmless, even if it is for ‘Unusual Happenstance’. That’s not usually a clause Normals use – it covers all-purpose hauntings, angry genii loci, ectoplasmic home invasion, demonic possession, that sort of thing – but Susan Beckett’s claimed three times in three months. Her house keeps getting inundated with mud, but she’s still insisting she doesn’t need or want help . . . until the dry-land drownings begin.

V’s first lead takes her to Chinatown, where she is confronted by kitsune assassins. But when she suddenly goes into labour, it’s clear the fox spirits are not going to be helpful . . .

Corpselight is the sequel to Vigil and the second book in the Verity Fassbinder series by award-winning author Angela Slatter.

It must be noted that Brisbane, my ancestral home and current shelfing ground, is not commonly the setting for books featuring fantasy and paranormal happenings.  In fact, the last one I read with Brisbane as a setting was Jam by Yahtzee Croshaw, four years ago.  Despite this, Slatter has had a damn good crack at trying to create a paranormal paradise in our fair city in Corpselight, with, among other creatures, a mud-slinging Scandinavian nasty and a skulk of kitsune who have no doubt taken advantage of the quick nine hour flight from their home country.

The quick-witted tone of Verity’s narration moves the plot along apace and despite the many, many references to her pregnancy in the first few chapters (including the truly remarkable revelation that at thirty-two weeks along, she sleeps soundly all night), it’s easy to get sucked in to the initial mystery on offer – the mysterious repeat appearance of stinky, coating mud inside an upmarket Paddington house.  Much like in the Peter Grant series, Verity works with various connections in the paranormal underworld as well as seemingly ordinary people who have taken advantage of Weyrd-Human relations – the ubiquitous insurance agency chief amongst them – to dig deeper and uncover the truly unexpected source of the mud-slinging.  I did find that the narration was slowed a little in the early chapters by information dumps about the events of the previous book.  These were necessary from my point of view, considering I hadn’t read the first book, but I wonder whether there might have been another way to accomplish the same task without slowing the narration – a cast of characters at the beginning, perhaps, or something similar.

I’m sure that most readers won’t have any problem at all with Brisbane as a setting, but for some reason I found it enormously difficult to try and pair places mentioned that I know with the existence of fantasy elements.  I’m not sure why that is. I’m sure if the setting was Melbourne or Sydney or some other Australian city I wouldn’t have had this problem, but because Brisbane seems so unlikely to me as a paranormal setting, what with being a resident, it took an awful lot of effort to suspend my disbelief.  Although I will admit to a little flash of schadenfreude when I noted that the mud-afflicted house was in Paddington.  Sucks to be you, richy rich!

There were some reasonably complicated reveals toward the end of the book relating to Verity’s mother and other family members, that may have been clearer to those who have read the first book, but provided for an action-packed finale.  The fact that Verity gives birth halfway through the book was also an unexpected spanner in the works but provides a new lens through which Verity views the sinister events that are unfolding around her.

Overall, if you enjoy urban fantasy novels and appreciate some diversity in the paranormal creatures you encounter in your reading then you should definitely give Corpselight a go.  If you aren’t a fan of jumping in at the middle of a series, start with book one instead – Vigil.

Until next time,

Bruce

Graphic Novel Double Dip Review: Fears and Fantasy Lands…

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You’ll require a nice light, colourful snack to accompany today’s illustrated double dip, in keeping with the theme of dark places and a desire for the light.  Let’s kick off with The Creeps by Fran Krause, being the follow-up anthology to Deep Dark Fears, and which we received from the publisher via Netgalley for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A follow-up to the New York Times best-selling Deep Dark Fears: a second volume of comics based on people’s quirky, spooky, hilarious, and terrifying fears. 

Illustrator, animator, teacher, and comic artist Fran Krause has touched a collective nerve with his wildly popular web comic series–and subsequent New York Times best-selling book–Deep Dark Fears. Here he brings readers more of the creepy, funny, and idiosyncratic fears they love illustrated in comic form–such as the fear that your pets will tell other animals all your embarrassing secrets, or that someone uses your house while you’re not home–as well as two longer comic short-stories about ghosts.

Dip into it for… the creeps cover

…another hilarious collection of unexpected yet deep-seated fears, presented in four-frame comic format.  This edition also features two longer fear “stories” that take up a few pages each.  I had just as much fun with this collection as I did with the first and the real beauty of these collections is that, for many of the fears depicted, I was totally unaware I might harbour such outlandish concerns until they were pointed out in comic form.  My two favourites from this collection were the potential horrible circumstances behind how our favourite plush toys come to be, and the deaf ear that we might unwittingly turn to the suffering of peeled vegetables.  I have included both of these below for your perusal.

Don’t dip if…

…you are the suggestible, anxious type and don’t like the idea of having new, hitherto unconsidered fears worming their way into your consciousness.

Overall Dip Factor

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it simultaneously provokes laughter and makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  I read this in one reasonably short sitting, but as with the first collection, it really is the perfect choice as a coffee table book or to leave in a waiting room for the enjoyment of unsuspecting victims.  Highly recommended.

creeps pic 1 creeps pic 2

Next up we have The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne and Veronica Fish, which is a YA graphic novel we received from the publisher via Netgalley for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

16-year-old Wendy Davies crashes her car into a lake on a late summer night in New England with her two younger brothers in the backseat. When she wakes in the hospital, she is told that her youngest brother, Michael, is dead. Wendy — a once rational teenager – shocks her family by insisting that Michael is alive and in the custody of a mysterious flying boy. Placed in a new school, Wendy negotiates fantasy and reality as students and adults around her resemble characters from Neverland. Given a sketchbook by her therapist, Wendy starts to draw. But is The Wendy Project merely her safe space, or a portal between worlds? 

Dip into it for… the wendy project

…a thoughtful and fast-paced graphic novel dealing with themes of grief, loss and the pressure to move on after losing a loved one.  Wendy and her family are involved in a car accident in which her younger brother Michael is killed – although Wendy is certain that she saw Michael fly away from the crash and is therefore still alive.  Understandably concerned, her parents involve Wendy in therapy, in which she is encouraged to keep a visual diary in order to make sense of her thoughts about the loss of her brother.  Despite the heavy subject matter, the author and illustrator have infused this story with magical realism based upon the Peter Pan story.  Different characters, as well as sharing names with characters from Peter Pan, take on characteristics of their fantastical namesakes, culminating in a trip to Wendy’s very own Neverland.  It is through this experience that Wendy comes to terms with who she is now and how her life will change.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of stories based on famous books.  This one does borrow heavily from the Peter Pan narrative, and I will be the first to admit that Peter Pan is one of my least favourite stories (what with Peter himself being the poster boy for man-children everywhere)…but this didn’t put me off as much as I thought it would, and I think the creators of The Wendy Project have achieved a good balance between original story content and content based on the more famous work.

Overall Dip Factor

This turned out to be quite a quick read but one that manages to explore serious themes with some depth despite this.  With a balanced blend of fantasy and real life, the authors have done well to highlight the difficulties that can be faced by young people, and all of us really, in the situation of a sudden bereavement, particularly when, as Wendy is here, there is guilt, be it actual or misplaced, about the circumstances in which their loved one died.  I would recommend this to those who enjoy graphic novels about real life issues told in creative ways.

I am submitting this one for the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017 in the final category, because the cover features a plethora of different colours.  You can check out my progress toward that challenge here.

So are either of these your cup of tea (or bowl of nachos)?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Meandering through Middle Grade: The Tale of Angelino Brown…

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meandering-through-middle-grade

David Almond is one of those authors that many people categorise as an “auto-read”; that is, such is the strength of his previous work, any new work that is published will be snapped up immediately by his fans.  It’s a bit that way for we shelf-dwellers.  We loved Skelling, A Monster Calls and Heaven Eyes, for instance, but found some of his other books like Clay and The Savage a bit too dark and depressing.  The Tale of Angelino Brown which we received from Walker Books Australia for review, felt like something new from Almond.  The magical realism and quirkiness were all still there, but oozing out of the pages was a sense of hope and a lightness in tone that we hadn’t encountered in Almond’s work before.  Before I say too much more, here’s the blurb from Walker UK:

A warm and witty tale from a master storyteller, author of Carnegie Medal-winning Skellig and internationally bestseller The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas

Bert and Betty Brown have got themselves a little angel. Bert found him in his top pocket when he was driving his bus. Bert and Betty’s friends think he’s lovely. So do Nancy and Jack and Alice from Class 5K. What a wonder! But Acting Head Teacher Mrs Mole is not so sure. Nor is Professor Smellie. Or the mysterious bloke in black who claims to be a School Inspector. Then there’s Basher Malone – big, lumbering Basher Malone. He REALLY doesn’t like Angelino. And it looks like he’s out to get him…

tale of angelino brown

There’s a real sense of joy that comes flitting through the text and images of this tome, from the opening lines of “Here we go. All aboard”, to the rosy-cheeked, golden-haired, flatulent angel of the cover.  This book felt quite uplifting to read throughout, which is not always the case with Almond’s work, and I couldn’t help but feel that this book would be a hit with both its intended young audience, and older readers who dared to venture into books for young readers.  The tone is generally light and humorous, without ever losing Almond’s signature sense of pathos directed toward certain of the more pitiable characters in the story.

The book opens on Bert Brown’s pondering about the deficiencies of the bus driving trade, when all of a sudden, Bert’s life is turned on its head by the discovery of an angel – a living, breathing, if somewhat flatulent and undersized angel!  The grumpy Bert brings the angel home to his wife Betty and the pair immediately become enamoured of the little creature and name him Angelino.  As the story moves on, Angelino becomes a treasured being among the children at the school at which Betty works as a lunch lady and with each passing connection, Angelino grows larger.  All is not well however, as unscrupulous and just plain unwise forces find out about Angelino and set into motion a plan to kidnap him for reasons nefarious.

This really is a delightful read, with lots of giggles to be had and a real sense of warmth about the quirky characters.  Almond has a way of making even the most odious of personalities at least pitiable, if not likeable, and there is much of that going on here with everyone from Kevin the Master of Disguise, to Mrs Mole the acting Headteacher and the truly monstrous Basher Malone.  Bert and Betty are the epitome of lovable however and felt like the true heart and soul of the book to me.

Themes of friendship, forgiveness and the forging of community can be found at various junctures of the story and Angelino, while never the most loquacious of characters, serves as a central focus around which unconnected characters come together.  The illustrations enhance the reading experience and wrap neatly around sections of text, giving extra life to the imagery generated by the writing.

I thoroughly recommend The Tale of Angelino Brown to current fans of Almond’s work as well as those who have never come across his work before.  I could see this being the perfect read aloud for a lower middle grade classroom, both for its humour and its gentle message of rallying around the vulnerable.

I’m going to submit this one for the Popsugar Reading Challenge, under category #47: a book with an eccentric character, because eccentricities abound in this one.  You can check out my progress toward my reading challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Superheroes, Secrets and Tiny Horses: Kid Normal…

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kid normal

It’s time for a bit of good old fashioned, super powered fun and I have just the book to fit the bill.  We received Kid Normal by Greg James and Chris Smith from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The first book in a laugh-out-loud funny adventure series for 8+ readers from popular radio personalities Greg James and Chris Smith.

When Murph Cooper rocks up to his new school several weeks into the beginning of term, he can’t help but feel a bit out of his depth.

And it’s not because he’s worried about where to sit, and making friends, and fitting in, or not knowing where the loos are. It’s because his mum has enrolled him at a school for superheroes by mistake. And unlike his fellow students, who can all control the weather or fly or conjure tiny horses from thin air, Murph has no special abilities whatsoever.

But just because you don’t have superpowers, it doesn’t mean you can’t save the day. Let’s hope Murph realises that, and quick – because not far away is a great big bad guy who is half man and half wasp, and his mind is abuzz with evil plans …

It’s time for Kid Normal to become a hero!

What a fun read this was!  It felt like a cross between X-Men and Little Britain and was a refreshing change of pace from the books I’ve been reading lately.   Kid Normal is not the most original story in the world – untalented kid makes good being the order of the day in many middle grade reads – but it is certainly funny, pacey and tongue in cheek, with a likable protagonist, a band of lovable misfits and some truly ridiculous(ly evil) villains.

Murph is a boy who has moved around a lot and when his mother finally discovers a school in which to enrol him in their new town, it is to Murph’s chagrin that the school turns out to be a secret school for the super-powered.  Having said that, not all of the “powers” evident in the attendees could really be classed as “super”, unless you count making a screeching noise with your teeth particularly super, so Murph, while the only one not endowed with a superpower, is not the only one struggling to fit in.

If you discount the superpower element, Kid Normal is a tried and true story of a young man who is lost and alone developing some solid, if unusual, friends and working together to overcome their difficulties.  In this case, the difficulty happens to be a giant wasp-human hybrid villain with a plan to take over the picnic world through the means of enslavement-inducing helmets, but apart from that, the story is one with which middle grade readers will be generally familiar.

The humour really is the driving force behind the story, with the book using a narrative style that invites the reader in and addresses them here and there.  The narrative style is fun and fast-paced and there were many moments that had me giggling along at the imagery produced.  Many of the adult characters are larger than life and readers won’t be able to help having a laugh at their over the top antics.  We absolutely fell in love with Hilda, the girl whose power is to produce two tiny horses at will.  I mean, what a brilliant power! Who wouldn’t want such an adorable skill at their disposal?

While my copy didn’t have any illustrations, the final edition of the book will be illustrated throughout, which will no doubt enhance the reading experience even more.

Kid Normal was a wonderful brain-break that celebrates the outsider, the kid who doesn’t fit the mould, in a supremely humorous way.  There is enough action and mystery to keep young readers happy and I highly recommend this to readers who love a rollicking tale that uses super-charged laughs to drive the action-packed outcome.

Until next time,

Bruce

Post-Natal Exhaustion and Creepy House-guests: The Hours Before Dawn…

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the hours before dawn

The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin is a psychological thriller based upon those oft hideous first months of sleeplessness, exhaustion and physical and mental barrenness that can follow the birth of a child.   The book was first published in 1959 and won the Edgar Award in 1960 for best mystery novel.  We received a copy via Netgalley for review as Faber & Faber have reissued the book.  We are so glad we came across this novel because even as the attitudes and situations depicted in the book are clearly of their time, I have yet to come across a book that so flawlessly transcends social change to appear as relevant and likely today as ever.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Louise would give anything – anything – for a good night’s sleep. Forget the girls running errant in the garden and bothering the neighbours. Forget her husband who seems oblivious to it all. If the baby would just stop crying, everything would be fine.

Or would it? What if Louise’s growing fears about the family’s new lodger, who seems to share all of her husband’s interests, are real? What could she do, and would anyone even believe her? Maybe, if she could get just get some rest, she’d be able to think straight.

In a new edition of this lost classic, The Hours Before Dawn proves – scarily – as relevant to readers today as it was when Celia Fremlin first wrote it in the 1950s.

Although the book is a mystery with a psychological focus, Fremlin deals with the events with a remarkable sense of dry wit.  I initially thought that the book might be a bit dreary in tone, dealing as it does with an exhausted new mother, but Fremlin’s writing is incredibly enjoyable and droll and I couldn’t help having a bit of a giggle at certain wry observations.  This really helped carry the book and was part of the reason, I suspect, that I got through this one in a couple of chunky sittings.

The descriptions of the life of a stay-at-home mother with multiple children and a new addition are so absolutely spot on that it is obvious that Fremlin knows whereof she speaks.  Indeed, this edition features an introduction that describes how Fremlin based the story on her own experiences with one of her children.  The walking-dead exhaustion, the scrutiny of judging members of the public, the feeling that one must certainly be losing one’s mind when sleeping and nursing upright in a kitchen cupboard seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do to avoid waking the household during a night feed will be familiar to anyone who has ever had to live with and care for an infant who is a difficult sleeper.

Similarly, contemporary readers will recognise people of their acquaintance in Mark, Louise’s “man of the house” husband, who seems to have little idea why Louise can’t keep it together on less than three hours of sleep a night, and the family’s neighbours who are by turns nosy, complaining and downright outrageous.  There are a few bits of the book that are “of the period” such as the moments when the mothers in the story are quite happy to leave their unattended infants for hours on end to attend to some other task or errand, but overall, the situations faced by Louise and new mothers of today are remarkably similar.

The psychological thriller aspect of the story relating to the family’s lodger, the mysterious Ms Vera Brandon, unfolds slowly and almost as an afterthought in Louise’s hectic, chaotic life.  This is somewhat made up for in the end however, with an action-packed and sinister denouement that features danger, death and daring escapes.

I thoroughly recommend this as the perfect pick for a fun and creepy holiday read, although it may not be wise to pick it up just now if you are a new mother.

I’m going to submit this one for the Popsugar Challenge under category #29: a book with an unreliable narrator.   You can check out my progress toward my reading challenges for the year here.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Quirky Take on Parental Frailty: Goodbye, Vitamin…

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goodbye vitamin

I’ve read quite a number of books featuring characters with Alzheimer’s or dementia in my time, but I’ve never come across one quite like Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong.  We received a copy of this one from Simon & Schuster for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Ruth is thirty and her life is falling apart: she and her fiancé are moving house, but he’s moving out to live with another woman; her career is going nowhere; and then she learns that her father, a history professor beloved by his students, has Alzheimer’s. At Christmas, her mother begs her to stay on and help. For a year.

Goodbye, Vitamin is the wry, beautifully observed story of a woman at a crossroads, as Ruth and her friends attempt to shore up her father’s career; she and her mother obsess over the ambiguous health benefits – in the absence of a cure – of dried jellyfish supplements and vitamin pills; and they all try to forge a new relationship with the brilliant, childlike, irascible man her father has become.

Most books about Alzheimer’s that I’ve come across tend to feature, at some point during the story, a scene or scenes that really bring home to the reader the harrowing disease that Alzheimer’s is – the way it erases the personality and memories of an individual and shatters the familiar ways in which family and friends have connected with the sufferer throughout their lifetime.

Goodbye, Vitamin is nothing like that.

In fact, Goodbye, Vitamin forgoes the inevitable destruction of the human brain and any relationships in which said brain was involved, and instead focuses on the ways in which Ruth, chaotic and underachieving daughter of an Alzheimer’s-afflicted father, tries to adjust to a life put on hold, while she helps out her mother for “just a year”.

I must admit, it was quite refreshing to read a book featuring a character with Alzheimer’s and not come away feeling angsty and unsettled at the prospect of literally having one’s mind slowly eroded from within.

The book is written in a sort of diary format, as Ruth recounts events in chronological order during her year back at home.  I generally find diary-type books engaging and so it was in this case.  I tend to enjoy that the sections can be quite short and so I feel like I’m getting somewhere with the book quickly.  Having said that, this isn’t an overly hefty read and things move along apace from the moment Ruth decides to give it a year until the poignant but hopeful ending.

Ruth has a dry and self-deprecating sense of humour and manages to reminisce on both her broken past relationship and her childhood relationship with her father without being particularly maudlin, but highlighting the weirdness that we accept as everday life.  Her father’s ex-students play a surprising and uplifting role in attempting to halt her father’s decline and I had a bit of chuckle at their cloak and dagger antics as well as their finding new excuses to take their “classes” off campus.

As much as this is a story about the decline of a family member and a change in the parent-child relationship, it is also a story about the chaos of early adulthood – yes, even up to one’s thirties!  Ruth is in as much a period of flux as her father as she tries to forget past mistakes and forge a new path in her career and life in general.

I would recommend Goodbye, Vitamin if you are looking for a convivial tale about an unwanted mental guest and the ways in which people choose to remember.

Until next time,

Bruce