Choose Your Own Misery: Now Here’s A Christmas Book Everyone Can Enjoy!

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choose-your-own-misery

If you are already sick of hearing how many shopping days are left before Christmas (and Halloween hasn’t even arrived yet!), then today’s book is going to be right up your alley.  Many readers, of a certain age, loved the Choose Your Own Adventure series as children and some have tried to recreate the experience in a format for grown-ups, but until now I don’t think the power of negativity has ever been harnessed to allow the fraternity of pessimists and misery guts to choose their own path through a story.  Thanks to Mike Macdonald and Jilly Gagnon however, this is now a happy, unhappy possibility with the Choose You Own Misery series.  We received Choose Your Own Misery: The Holidays from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

From “The Onion” alum writers Mike MacDonald and Jilly Gagnon comes a hilarious choose-your-own-path story to ruin your holiday spirit.

This is the year you re going to do it: you re going to avoid Christmas completely!

…or you were, until your island getaway got washed out by a hurricane. Now you have to choose: should you spend the holiday with your shrewish sister and her Europhile husband, or endure your new girlfriend s family for a week? Help chop down a tree even though it might throw out your back, or endure the icy judgment of a woman who thinks only children and pussies help bake cookies? Jet off to the glamorous slums of Kingston, Jamaica, or accept the offer of a ride from a man who never stops smiling…and is probably going to turn you into a skin suit?

From the writers who brought you the hilarious parody “Choose Your Own Misery: The Office” comes a second helping of misery with a festive twist. Christmas is full of fun surprises for kids, but for adults, it s just an endless series of aggressive crowds, overwhelming credit card debt, and pretending to like the people you re forced to spend it with.

Once you unwrap all the holiday misery hiding in these pages, the blackness of your heart will rival any lump of coal.”

I wouldn’t class myself as a particular Christmas grump, but I had a lot of fun with this book nonetheless.  The kindle edition allows you to click on a page option at the end of each section to choose the next step on your path to misery: shall I accept a lift from a sweaty, suspicious stranger or hire a car at inflated holiday prices?  Should I tell my girlfriend’s family about the unfortunate accident that I caused or allow them to keep thinking of me as a paragon of virtue?  There are so many options to choose that I was able to replay the book a number of times without crossing any paths I had already selected.

The book is written from a male character’s point of view, so I don’t know whether female readers will feel like this is a problem, but right from the off I was able to relate to the frustration and bewilderment of the protagonist as he (I) was forced to make unlikely choices as a series of absurd obstacles appeared in the road of his (my) planned escape from Christmas jollity.

If you’re looking for a Kris Kringle present for a subversive friend, or just want to while away the time on a long and boring train commute, this book would be a great choice.

Until next time,

Bruce

Now Listen Carefully: Did You Take the B From My _ook?

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did you take the b

We recently received this accusatorily-titled book from Harper Collins Australia and were immediately primed to see whether the claim on the cover – that this was a book that would “drive kids crazy” – was accurate, because we all know there is nothing funner than inciting (quickly reparable) mental anguish in children.  Before we begin, this is definitely a read-aloud title and involves a bit of audience participation, so if that’s not your bag, you should probably move along.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

From the brilliant brains behind THIS IS A BALL comes a new giggle-inducing bestseller!
For the Grown-Ups:

OK. Two things you need to know. Firstly, your favourite thing in the whole world is the letter B. And secondly, you’re about to sneeze and all the Bs are going to be blown out of the book. So until you can get your favourite letter back, you’re about to sound really, really silly … And the kids will love it!

Did You Take the B from My _ook? by Beck and Matt Stanton is the epitome of interactive reading.  In order to appreciate the book, it MUST be read aloud, and requires the listeners to contribute in order for the narrator to solve the problem of the missing ‘b’s.  The illustrations are basic and sparse here and don’t really carry the story at all, but are helpful in prompting that listener participation that is so vital to the reading experience.  I can imagine that the larger the audience experiencing the book, the better the overall fun factor will be, as it’s the kind of book that benefits from more than one voice in the telling.

Admittedly, on first reading, I was skeptical that this book would actually be as funny as the cover and blurb make out. Not being the target audience, however, I decided that in order to be fair, I would have to snaffle a mini-fleshling or two and use them as guinea pigs (in the pursuit of literature-based science,  obviously).  Luckily, I had both a five and a two-and-a-half year old mini-fleshling just lying around the place ready and willing to sacrifice their sanity for the greater good of this blog.

So on I read.

And while the older mini-fleshling warmed to the book slowly and quite enjoyed the audience participation elements, the two-and-a-half-year-old wandered off in the middle in search of fruit, seemingly uninterested in the plight of the narrator and the ultimate fate of the tale. The five year old didn’t ask for the book to be read again, either, which may, or may not, be a telling factor in his level of engagement with the book.  On the other hand, he did say that he enjoyed the book because “it was tricky” (in the sense of tricksy, rather than difficult), which would indicate that the authors have hit the mark in making this unlike your average storybook.

Clearly, my experiment involves a statistically insignificant sample and no great conclusions can be drawn from it.  I still have the sense that this book didn’t quite work to the level I expected, given the enjoyment we’ve extracted from other such interactive tomes – Please Open This Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt or This Book Just Ate My  Dog by Richard Byrne, for instance.  The difference, of course, is that the two books I have just mentioned rely heavily on the interplay between words and pictures to drive the interactive nature of the story, whereas Did You Take the B from My _ook? relies more on the aural aspect.

Overall, I would have to say that while there were enjoyable elements to this book, I think it is best suited to read-alouds with a bigger audience – in the classroom or library storytime, for example – where the interactive nature can really shine and listeners can bounce off each other and the narrator.  As holidays are just about to end here in Queensland, maybe some parents should pick this one up and casually drop it to their child’s teacher, then sit back and bask in the admiration that flows from being the one to bring in “that really funny cool book”.

Thanks again to HarperCollins Australia for sending us the copy for review.

Until next time,

Bruce

Double-Dip Review Week #2: Picture Books for the Curious and Subversive…

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imageI’m assuming everyone has slept off Wednesday’s double serving of awesome middle grade fiction (and giveaway!) and you’re ready for the second course in this week-long bookish buffet.  Today we are focusing on picture books and the two I have for you today are sure to excite if you are the question-asking, rule-bending, interactive-book-loving type.

Let us begin! First up, I have an eye-popping beauty of a book from AUSSIE author and illustrator Kyle Hughes-Odgers.  Can A Skeleton Have an X-Ray? was provided to us for review from Fremantle Press.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

What spins the Earth? Do colors smell? Why is water wet? Where do dreams go? Renowned artist Kyle Hughes-Odgers brings his own unique vision to these and many other questions, from the practical to the philosophical.

Dip into it for…

skeleton xray…a head-scratching, smile-inducing jaunt through a jungle of curious questions, accompanied by stunning, quirky illustrations that wouldn’t look out of place in an art gallery (which makes sense, given that the author is also an accomplished visual artist).  I barely got past the cover before I got sucked into trying to answer some of the unexpected questions in the book. (Can a skeleton have an x-ray? Yes, I suspect, but it would probably be a fruitless exercise…maybe…unless you’re doing some kind of forensic testing…what? Oh, there’s more past the cover! *turns page eagerly*).  Some of the questions are quite funny – what do ghosts do all day, for instance – whereas some really did have me realising how little I know about how important things work…like “who gives the internet its powers?”  Seems like a pretty important question if you ask me!

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for a book with easy answers!  Each page in the book presents a new question, accompanied by an illustration that will prompt the imaginations of kids and adults alike.  If you’re looking for serious answers to these questions, I suggest you consult the non-fiction section.

Overall Dip Factor

I can see this being the perfect tool to generate discussion in the classroom right before a creative, problem-solving or investigative assignment is unleashed.  I loathe to use the word “whimsical” because I feel it is so overused as to be cliched, but there is a definite sense of whimsy in some of the illustrations, coupled with something more akin to the complexity found in Shaun Tan’s works – it’s that atmosphere generated by the effective coupling of simple text with illustrations that beg to be explored beyond a first glance.  My favourite illustration is from the “who builds the wings for birds to fly?” page:

birdhouse manIn fact, I liked it so much I was tempted to carefully remove it from the book and stick it in a frame on the wall…but luckily I don’t have to do that, because I’ve just learned that Kyle Hughes-Odgers is releasing a colouring book in December featuring some of the images from Can a Skeleton Have an X-Ray? !  It’s called Off the Wall and you can check it out at Fremantle Press.

Now, on to the subversive!  Our second offering is Please, Open This Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt and Matthew Forsythe, provided for review by Simon & Schuster Australia, and the sequel to the highly acclaimed Warning! Do Not Open This Book! from 2013.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Books are made to be opened. Especially this one. But, guess what…

Someone closed this book! Who would do that?

Luckily, you can fix this. All you need to do is open it. You can do that. Can’t you?

We need your help!

Please, Open This Book!

They warned you, but you just couldn’t listen–now, the creators of Warning: Do Not Open This Book! are back with their zany monkey crew, and they need your help!

In Warning, Do Not Open This Book!, which School Library Journal called “more fun than a barrel of monkeys,” turning pages meant increased chaos and delight. Now the tables have turned, and opening the book is the only way to save the desperate group of monkeys trapped between its pages. This irresistibly entertaining rescue effort puts power in the hands of the page-turner, and giggles into everyone!

Dip into it for… please open this book

…zany monkey shenanigans and a book that gives you the freedom to use your book-closing powers for good OR evil! The cheeky, distressed faces of the monkeys are a highlight of this one, as they exhort, beg and reason with the reader first to open the book and then subsequently,to stop turning the pages.  Similarly, the consequences given when pages keep being turned will generate a giggle – although I had to agree with the characters about the banana; I was as sad as they were to see a superfruit being treated in such an alarmingly cavalier manner.  It’s all about the interaction with this one and I suspect young readers will love arguing with the characters here before resolutely turning the page (which will bring only doom, as the monkey doomsayers predict!).

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of monkeys.  I’m mildly distressed by monkeys generally and there are a number of species here with their bulging eyes and awkward limbs and lice (presumably).  In all honestly though, there’s not much to dislike here..except the fact that parents will no doubt be asked to read it ad nauseam at bedtimes, rest times and all other times.

Having said that, it does pay to be careful if you’re inexperienced at this sort of book-reading.  Even the best of us can get caught out with such dangerous content, as Mad Martha and I discovered:

trapped

Thankfully the family dog passed by not soon after and knocked the book to the ground with her waggy tail, inadvertently setting us free.  Not sure what we would have done otherwise, except maybe take up a “Help” sign and douse ourselves with lice-killing shampoo.

Overall Dip Factor

Please, Open This Book! is going to be an instant hit, I suspect, as much for the interactive nature of the story as for the cheeky, giggle-inducing antics of the characters.  The black pages and brightly coloured monkeys will catch the eye immediately and there’s a fun little twist on the last page and beyond that will delight mini-fleshlings, especially if they’re tackling this one on their own.  If you enjoyed such similarly interactive books as Viviane Schwarz’s There Are Cats in This Book and its sequels, or the adventures of Mo Willem’s Pigeon, then you’ll find much fun to be had when you open Please, Open This Book! after heeding the mute, banner-laden exhortations from the monkeys on the cover.

Well, that’s our second helping done and dusted!  Stay tuned on Monday for some easy-to-digest short story collections for fleshlings both mini and grown.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Choose Your Own Adventure for Big Kids: Superpowered (Click Your Poison #3)…

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Hold your horses! Stop the press! Today I’ve got an early Christmas present for anyone who wants to feel like they did way back when, as they flicked through a Choose Your Own Adventure tale. But today’s book is designed specifically for adult readers.  Intrigued? Come on, of course you are!  I was lucky enough to snag a copy of today’s tome through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program and I am glad I did, because I haven’t had such a fun experience with an ebook for a long time as I had with Superpowered by James Schannep, the third offering in the Click Your Poison series.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

You know the superhero fantasy. What would life be like if you had superhuman abilities? But really, given the choice, would you save the world or conquer it? In SUPERPOWERED, the choice is yours.

After a bizarre experiment leaves you with one of three superpowers (play the book multiple times to explore all three!), you must ally with or confront the other two test subjects while the fate of Mercury City–nay, the world!–hangs in the balance.

Live your own interactive comic book adventure and Get SUPERPOWERED!

3 Unique Storylines. Over 50 Possible Endings. Just one question… Will YOU Be a Hero or a Villain?

 

superpowered

This was a light, fun read that immediately had me thinking out my old-school strategies for how I would approach the story.  I initially took the path of least resistance, which resulted in a quickly ended storyline, and then I backed up and got my head in the game.  There are three superpowers you can choose from once the story gets going and I took my time deliberating – you don’t want to end up choosing a sucky one and having to start all over again, after all. Or maybe you do, if that’s the way you want to play it!

Once it becomes apparent that you are no longer an ordinary human, paths unfold that allow you to choose whether you will be a bleeding heart hero with designs on making the world a super place, or a black hearted villain with no regard for the common people.  The thing that impressed me the most about this book was the smooth and responsive “click your choice” format in the Kindle edition that allows the reader to click on the chosen option to be taken straight to the corresponding page.  I admit, I did wonder how the author was going to get past all the flicking forward and back of the traditional print CYACs in the electronic format, but it worked like a dream and kept me focused on the story.

I did find it was tricky to go back once you’d made a selection – I learned to take note of the prior location in case I muffed it up – but that was a minor drawback to something that really delivers an enjoyable, nostalgic experience in a modern, adult-friendly format.

There are two other adventures in the Click Your Poison series – one a murder mystery and the other an apocalyptic plague zombie survival adventure – and I would be interested in checking them out.  I reckon that this series is perfect for those who enjoyed the CYAC format as a youngster and are looking for a fun, interactive reading experience to brighten up their daily commute, boring appointment waiting time or other tedium from which there is no physical escape.

I’m submitting this one into my Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge under the category of Odd Language Element due to the interactive format.  For more information about the challenge and to join in, click here.

Progress Toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 11/16

Until next time,

Bruce